I'm afraid anyone who has read my reviews of earlier issues in this series of much of Brahms's output as he arranged it for piano four-hands will know what to expect in this notice. Yes, another rave. I'm sorry to be so boring, but this series is simply magnificent. Thank you, Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Köhn, Naxos, and most of all Herr Brahms!
This disc combines Brahms's Third String Quartet, Op. 67, and the First String Quintet, Op. 88. The arrangements are, being by the composer himself, expert and telling. The playing is what we've come to expect from this young four-hand piano team, namely flexible, unfailingly musicianly and full of energy or songful repose whenever needed. My only quibble, and it's not the fault of the executants, is that no piano can successfully imitate the luscious sound of the string quintet in that memorable tune at the beginning of the Op. 88 Quintet, one of Brahms's loveliest creations. Once it gets in my head it stays for days.
One correspondent has asked me why anyone would want to have piano duet recordings of Brahms's music when there are so many excellent recordings of the music with original instrumentation; my answer is that these arrangement add to our understanding of Brahms's craft, his musical thought processes and, as well, they are magnificent music-making, capable of standing on their own. One advantage, for instance, is the frequent clarification of polyphonic textures. Perhaps there is a limited audience for this sort of thing, but since I started writing about this series I've had correspondence with a number of music-lovers who, like me, have been enraptured by the arrangements, the musicianly playing and the crisp, lifelike recorded sound. Of course, there are some of us who simply can't get enough of Brahms; e.g., I recently reviewed a recording, not in this series, of the 'German Requiem' sung by a French chamber choir (Accentus) and accompanied by two pianos, an arrangement Brahms made for a London concert. Stunning!
It's hard to know what might be coming in this series, but one can only hope that the Second Quintet and the two String Sextets are in the pipeline. I fervently hope so!