Arno Piters

Brahms, Schumann: Strings Attached

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As the booklet for this Challenge-label relase points out, arrangements of classical pieces for alternate media continued into the 19th and even the 20th century. Prior to the age of recordings, such arrangements helped listeners get to know a wide range of music through home performance. Indeed, Brahms himself arranged one of the clarinet-and-piano pieces here, the Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Op. 120/1, for viola. This said, the question that has to be asked of a new arrangement made in this day and age -- the arrangements on this album were made by annotator Gert van Keulen -- is whether they contribute anything new to the music, the original rationale of convenience having disappeared. It's not clear that that occurs here. The arrangements are for clarinet and string quintet (Op. 120/1) and string sextet (Op. 120/2). Van Keulen points out that these settings tend to illuminate the contrapuntal writing in Brahms' original piano part, which he follows closely (the clarinet part is left untouched). Whether Brahms, who never did an arrangement of this kind, would have favored such illumination is not demonstrated; the balance between the attacks of clarinet and piano, and the way that balance interacts with the extremely complex large-scale harmonic structure of both clarinet sonatas on the album, is integral to the originals and is muddied here. The looser, more lyrical structure of the Schumann Fantasiestücke, Op. 73, for clarinet and string quartet, fares better, and there's nothing unpleasant about the playing of clarinetist Arno Piters and the string ensembles drawn from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. But the program as a whole is likely to leave the listener asking why.

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