I found this release puzzling: why supplement what is pretty much universally regarded as a transcription which creates a synthesis of orchestration and imagination leavened with brilliant touches of sly wit and humour? Schoenberg’s re-imagining of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No 1 in G Minor is Schoenberg for people who hate Schoenberg. Schoenberg considered Brahms, along with JS Bach, his greatest precursor and saw himself as the grateful inheritor of their respective mantles. Works like the Op. 25 transcription very strongly created a highly personalized view of his predecessors. (When Solti came to record Schoenberg’s knotty opera Moses and Aaron, he told the players of the Chicago Symphony to pretend they were playing Brahms!)

Album artwork

This more conservative re-incarnation by Richard Dünser is much closer to the Brahmsian spirit and aesthetic and combines aspects of the original piano quartet with Brahms’ own four-hand arrangement. It’s a bit swings and roundabouts: the overall effect is more “classical” and more like “chamber” music (in a good sense), with none of the more piquant 20th-century inflections of Schoenberg’s treatment. As one reviewer noted, sometimes the melodic line is strengthened and dramatised, at others, weakened. Sivan Silver and Gil Farburg who commissioned the arrangement are certainly wonderful advocates, as are the Vienna Symphony forces under Florian Krumpock.

The repertoire isn’t exactly overburdened with orchestral concertos/concertante works for two pianos: Mendelssohn, Poulenc and Vaughan Williams (far from his best). Despite their obvious sincerity as musicians and the elaborate apologia in the liner notes, I can’t escape the feeling that these excursions have a whiff of the vanity project about them.

The other work is the St. Anthony Variations in its four-hand arrangement, which is unequivocally superb in all respects.

Composer: Brahms/Dunser
Works: Piano Quartet in G minor arr. Dünser for four hands and string ensemble, St Anthony Variations
Performers: Sivan Silver, Gil Garburg p, Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Florian Krumpock
Label: Berlin Classics 0301263BC

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