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Brahms: Complete Works For Piano Four-Hands & Two Pianos

Brahms: Complete Works For Piano Four-Hands & Two Pianos

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All arrangements are for Piano 4-hands, except where indicated otherwise in the Works list below.

Ates Orga writes in the liner notes: “For two hundred years piano four hands, the piano four hands, has belonged to the domestic drawing room. More than a few composers have learnt their classics through the medium. More than one romance has been kindled through the entwining and crossing of hands across the piano keys. Yet while the repertory may overflow in arrangements, it is surprisingly wanting in original music. Single volumes of Mozart (significant) and Beethoven (less so), three volumes of Schubert (seminally important), some Schumann (variable), the four books of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances (indispensable) grace most pianos – but that is about all. Given such paucity, Brahms’ contribution, dating largely from between the early (1852–66) and late (1892–93) solo piano works, is the more to be prized.”

This 18-piece box set contains all Brahms’ autograph arrangements for piano four hands, as well as his arrangements of compositions by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, and Joseph Joachim. This is the first complete recording of these works, and comprises critically acclaimed previously released material.


Prior to the invention of the phonograph, the piano was the home entertainment center. If you wanted to hear Brahms’ newest symphony, you’d either go to an orchestral concert in person or hack through the music at home on the piano. In fact, most major music firms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries published symphonic, chamber, and operatic repertoire in four-hand editions. These generally were the handiwork of so-called “house arrangers” like Hugo Ulrich, Otto Singer, Josef Wöss, and others of that ilk.

Johannes Brahms, however, took it upon himself to arrange his own symphonies, serenades, and overtures for piano duet, as well as his string quartets, quintets, and sextets. He also arranged three overtures by his friend Joseph Joachim, Schumann’s Piano Quintet, and a group of Schubert Ländler. In addition, Brahms took great care to make his arrangements idiomatic, practical, effective, and totally plausible in pianistic terms. Perhaps that explains their appeal to latter day piano duos like Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Köhn, whose 18-volume cycle of Brahms’ complete original and arranged piano duo and two-piano works for Naxos is now gathered together in a space-saving boxed set.

For the most part, the duo’s textural transparency, impressive ensemble unanimity, and generally swift tempos minimize the piano writing’s thick and clattery potential, particularly in the finales of the string quartets and quintets. The loud trills of the D minor concerto’s first movement convey long-lined urgency rather than a percussive onslaught. Similarly, the nuanced variety in the Tragic Overture’s tremolos and bass rumbles create an air of darkness and mystery.

The beautiful interplay between contrapuntal lines and undulating accompaniment throughout the G major Sextet’s opening Allegro non troppo loses nothing in translation from strings to keyboard (sound clip). The rarely-heard Triumphlied’s polyphonic rigor loses pomposity while gaining clarity in the absence of texts, baritone soloist, and eight-part chorus.

Some may feel that the pianists’ highly articulated approach to the German Requiem’s fifth movement (“Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit”) misses the music’s gentle, lyrical point, while no amount of keyboard wizardry can replicate the solo violin’s soaring impact in Symphony No. 1’s slow movement, or the horn soloist’s rounded resonance in Symphony No. 3’s third movement. On the other hand, I wish all orchestras would aspire to the lithe and seemingly offhand conversational mood that these pianists create in the Symphony No. 2’s opening movement.

No complaints regarding Brahms’ two-piano versions of the Haydn Variations and Piano Quintet, although you can do better via Ax/Bronfman or the myriad Argerich and Friends editions. The Hungarian Dances have enough rhythmic snap and insouciant accents to give the classic Katchen/Marty recording occasional pause. Heinrich IV is the best of the three Joachim overtures, yet they’re all rather derivative and unmemorable examples of the famous violinist’s youthful creative aspirations. I suspect that Brahms arranged them mostly out of friendship, and at least Matthies and Köhn play them well. In all, a valuable collection for piano arrangement enthusiasts.

-- (Jed Distler)

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    • UPC/Barcode: 747313180332
    • Item Number: 8501803