This Sony CD, called “The Schoenberg Effect” puzzled me: recently, I reviewed a recording which included an arrangement of Brahms G Minor Piano Quartet for string orchestra and two pianos which I felt fell between two stools. Indeed, my strap line for the review said, “Well played but it is really necessary?” Indeed.

Notos Quartet

This time, along with the G Minor Piano Quartet itself, Brahms’ Third Symphony has been transcribed for the same forces. What’s going on here? In the earlier review, I wrote, “Schoenberg’s orchestral 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.” 

Schoenberg’s treatment has rightly gained a place in the mainstream repertoire, as well as curiously making the original work better known. The arranger in this case, Dr Andreas Tarkmann has, in effect, gone in the other direction. How and why this qualifies as “The Schoenberg Effect” is beyond me. Tarkmann writes: “Every successful arrangement is distinguished by the fact that it does not give the impression of being an arrangement but appears perfectly suited to the new forces for which it is scored, in this case a piano quartet … Only then can it break free from its orchestral origins and allow the new arrangement to be perceived by performers and listeners alike as valuable independent work, rather than as the reduction of an orchestral composition that continues to be heard and judged only in comparison to the original.”

I have no wish to impugn Dr Tarkmann’s professional integrity or sincerity but, in the immortal words of Mandy Rice-Davies “He would say that, wouldn’t he?” To start with, Schoenberg was a famous composer when he arranged Op. 25. In fact, the world premiere was given in Los Angeles under the baton of Otto Klemperer, no less. The original work was a far less known then (and still probably is) than the Third Symphony. 

While the Notos Piano Quartet are an extremely accomplished group, I can’t say that this reduction illuminates any element of the Third Symphony, (which has been regarded as a perfect masterpiece from the moment it saw the light of day) in the way Schoenberg’s treatment of the quartet does. That said, I found the Notos Quartet’s reading of the original Piano Quartet, is by contrast very exciting, especially the manic “gypsy” finale. 

Again, as I wrote last time, it smacks of another vanity project. 

Listen on Apple Music.

Composer/Title: Brahms, Schoenberg
Work(s): Piano Quartet in G Minor, Symphony No 3 Arr. for Piano Quartet
Performer(s): Notos Quartet
Label: Sony 19439848002

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