Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 (arr. Schoenberg) - Vandelli
Challenge Classics CC 72831
Classical - Orchestral
Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 (arr. Schoenberg), Academic Festival Overture
Claudio Vandelli (conductor)
Arnold Schoenberg’s rarely recorded orchestration of the Piano Quartet in G minor (1861) demonstrates that Johannes Brahms was in no way the traditionalist that his adherents made him out to be.
Brahms increasingly became a model for Schoenberg during his later years. In 1931, in a letter to the American music critic Alfred Frankenstein, Schoenberg wrote that he had learned a lot from Brahms: “plasticity of design,” “systematics of compositional structure,” and “economy and yet: richness”.
In his essay “Brahms the Progressive” (1933/47), Schoenberg termed his model the protagonist of a forward-looking aesthetic, which despite its orientation by Classical and Romantic principles paved the way for the “developing variation” of New Music. Schoenberg wrote: “It is the purpose of this essay to prove that Brahms, the classicist, the academician, was a great innovator in the realm of musical language, that, in fact, he was a great progressive.” At the time this was a thoroughly provocative thesis since until then Brahms had been regarded as a classicist and a “conservative” upholder of the tradition.
Schoenberg substantiated his view of Brahms with his orchestration of the Piano Quartet in G minor Op. 25 in 1937. Schoenberg’s arrangement for full orchestra is both late romantic and modern.
“The one weeps; the other laughs”, this is how Brahms characterized his two overtures composed in the spa town of Bad Ischl in 1880. The first referred to the Tragic Overture; the second was the Academic Festival Overture heard on this CD. The composer wrote it for the bestowal of his honorary doctorate at the University of Breslau, where he conducted the premiere of the work on 4 January 1881. A potpourri in classical formal guise, the music brings together student songs that were familiar at the time.
Review by Adrian Quanjer - November 5, 2019
Unless you are a regular concert-goer in Amsterdam or Bucharest, you will be forgiven for not knowing the Würth Philharmoniker. Quite obvious. This orchestra is only 2 years old. That said, it may well become your most-remarkable-discovery-of-the-year. Why? Not only is it young, this orchestra is also surprisingly good: It’s an orchestral prodigy.
The Würth Group is a multinational, employing over 72.000 people. Like other multinationals (see my review of ‘I Believe’: Zalis: I Believe - Steiner) it has a cultural programme. But there is a notable difference: The personal involvement of the Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Reinhold Würth. Not only is he a great lover of classical music, but he is also a financially strong benefactor. In 2017 he saw his dream come true. His ‘own’ symphony orchestra, starting with a small group of permanent players with additional professional musicians hired in.
Reinhold Würth’s ambitions for this orchestra were, and still are, high: Making it one of the best in Germany. To this end, Kent Nagano was asked to do the first repetitions. Furthermore, pre-season (2017/18) concerts were scheduled to be held in Amsterdam and Bucharest. If that works, and it did, everything will.
The Würth Philharmoniker is the Orchestra in Residence in the Carmen Würth Forum in Künzelsau, a small provincial town in South-West Germany, and, more importantly, the home of the Würth family. During the first two years of its existence, the orchestra played with invited directors of renown and top soloists like Gautier Capuçon and Maxim Vengerov. And the opening concert of the 2019/20 season was with Leonard Slatkin and Kirill Gerstein. Moreover, Paavo Järvi will conduct the orchestra in early next year.
Now that the orchestra has come of age, recruiting a permanent Music Director seemed a logical step. Claudio Vendelli (known, inter alia, from his activity at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland) will start his tenure in 2020. Another step in getting wider recognition is a debut CD. And here it is. A well-chosen programme, by no means easy, to show what the Philharmoniker is capable of. The booklet lists a complement of 75 musicians, which is more than shown on a photo on the orchestra’s web site. It is not clear to me how many are now permanent. What is, however, is that this orchestral body sounds, in spite of its short life, already like a well-balanced, integrated ensemble.
Schönberg’s orchestration of Brahms’ first piano quartet is demanding. Very demanding. After the smooth introduction, Vendelli attacks the first movement with fervour, superbly underling the symphonic character of the piece, inspiring the players to follow suit with tangible and clearly dedicated enthusiasm, thus setting the tone for the rest to follow: A stark, multi-faceted musical picture, shunning the routine of well-tamed, possibly over-dressed orchestras. Summing it all up, I got the feeling of having listened to a truly European ensemble. A mixture of German thoroughness, Italian bravura and Eastern European emotionally driven forward thrust, culminating in a hair raising ‘Rondo ala Zingarese’. Perfect brass, singing woodwinds and a string section (with, by the way, an excellent concertmaster, Catalin Desaga) to stitch the soundscape firmly together.
I’d almost forgotten to mention the Academic Festival Overture, the complementary piece on this disc. May I limit myself by saying that it has it all: the wit, the charm and the exuberance. And I mustn’t forget the liner notes of Dr. Mathias Corvin either.
A remarkable debut, presented with the best possible sound engineering, recorded in loco, by one of today's best recording specialists around. It puts this orchestra-in-the-making firmly on the map.
For those interested: Both pieces will be played at the Carmen Würth Forum in February next year.
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