Friday 24 July 2015

SA-CD review: Brahms-Piano Quartet No.1

"Marc Albrecht's taut performance of this fascinating piece is delivered with great sensitivity and careful attention to dynamics, while the luminous recording is tinglingly atmospheric."


Our upcoming release 'Brahms - Piano Quartet Op. 25 & Schönberg- Accompaniment to a cinematographic scene' with Marc Albrecht and The Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra receaived a great review on SA-CD. The CD is expected to be released next month on August 3rd.

One early manifestation of Arnold Schoenberg's admiration of Brahms as a progressive composer is his orchestration of the latter's 1st Piano Quartet Op.25 that he undertook in 1937. In a letter to the music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle two years after the premier Schoenberg gave a number of cogent reasons for undertaking his arrangement of the quartet.

“ I like the piece”

“It is seldom played”

“It is always very badly played, because, the better the pianist, the louder he plays and you hear nothing from the strings. I wanted once to hear everything, and this I achieved.”

“My intentions: To remain strictly in the style of Brahms and not to go farther than he himself would have gone if he lived today.”

The second and third of these reasons would probably be generally untrue today while the fourth is often a matter of conjecture and debate engendered by the orchestrator's inclusion of a large percussion section ( bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, tambourine, triangle, and xylophone) that is given its head in the fiery 'Rondo alla zingarese' finale. Be that as it may, the result is a hugely entertaining piece that combines the Brahmsian sound world with the piquancy of Schoenberg's orchestral palette.

Those seeking a recording of this work in high resolution sound have a choice between this superb new PENTATONE disc from Marc Albrecht and his Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra or the 2009 version from Simon Rattle and the prestigious Berlin P O. Rattle has long been a champion of this piece, having recorded it twice, and, as well as the two works common to both these programmes, he includes Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No1 – a substantial bonus. However, whilst the Netherlands P O may not quite possess the effortless virtuosity of the Berliners, they play with fierce commitment and tonal beauty for their Chief Conductor whose excellently paced performance is fractionally swifter overall than that of Rattle. Albrecht also avoids Rattle's occasional mannerisms in tempo and phrasing that, rather than illuminating the music, can become irritating.


[ order it here: ]

When it comes to sound quality Albrecht wins hands down. The (stereo only) Rattle version recorded live in the Philharmonie has a wide but rather shallow acoustic presence while the PENTATONE 5.0 multi-channel DSD recording possesses both the richness essential for Brahms and also exceptional clarity and depth. The excellent acoustic of the orchestra's new home – the NedPhO-Koepel in Amsterdam, a former church – has obviously played an important part in helping the PENTATONE / Polyhymnia team to achieve such outstanding results.

Schoenberg's concise 'Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene' (Accompaniment to a cinematographic scene) Op. 34 is the contrasting fill-up to the Brahms work. In 1929/30 the Heinrichshofen publishing firm commissioned a score from the composer for use by the German silent film industry. Because the very idea of adapting his music to fit a film scene, rather than the reverse, was in total conflict with Schoenberg's ethos the score remained unused for that purpose. Schoenberg did attach an aphoristic scenario to the piece: “Threatening danger”, “Fear” and “Catastrophe.” but the listener's imagination provides the missing visual and emotional dimensions.

Marc Albrecht's taut performance of this fascinating piece is delivered with great sensitivity and careful attention to dynamics, while the luminous recording is tinglingly atmospheric.

This SACD is another fine addition to the burgeoning discography of the charismatic Marc Albrecht and his marvellous Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and can be enthusiastically recommended.


 Graham Williams