Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sunday Classics: On second thought, let's start with Brahms's First Piano Quartet


The start of the moody first movement of Brahms's First Piano Quartet is played by pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist Giora Schmidt, violist Teng Li, and cellist Nicholas Canellakis at the 2009 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

by Ken

Change of course here. As of when I posted last night's preview, I fully expected to be continuing today with the hauntingly beautiful second of Brahms's quartets for piano and strings, in A major, which as I noted last night was substantially conceived at the same time as the first, in G minor. However, for grueling technical reasons I'll explain some other time, what I want to do with the A major Quartet I'm just not able to do at this time.

And then it occurred to me that our hearing of the first movements of both of these wonderful quartets could equally well point us toward the G minor Quartet, which as I noted last night has become by a wide margin the most popular of the three Brahms piano quartets, which themselves have undergone a near-miraculous awakening in the last several decades, from works that were for a long time specialty items to works that are played all the time. In addition, on rechecking the earlier post in which I remembered we had sort of "done" the G minor Quartet, I discovered that all we "did" was the concluding "Gypsy Rondo."

So today's subject indeed is not the Second but the First Piano Quartet. Which offers us the additional opportunity of hearing an remarkable take from an unexpected source: Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg loved Brahms in general and this quartet in particular, which he regretted wasn't heard often enough. He hoped the orchestral version would give it more exposure, and at the same time effectively constitute a "Brahms Fifth Symphony." The orchestral dress that isn't really necessary, and sometimes overinflates the piece texturally, but on the whole not only testifies to Schoenberg's affection for the piece and does it proud. This version has understandably become a favorite of many conductors, managing to do honor to the original but also add a delicious layer of affectionately over-the-top commentary.
[UPDATE: Sorry about the defective original version of the above paragraph; it's more or less fixed now!]



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