Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Transcriptions for Solo Piano by Paul Klengel
Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano Op. 40 [28:48]
Clarinet Quintet in B minor Op. 115 [41:29]
Christopher Williams (piano)
rec. Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, England, 2016
GRAND PIANO GP749 [70:17]
This is an interesting, yet, at the same time, infuriating disc; on one hand, we have a different way of experiencing Brahms’s wonderful music, but on the other, there is an overwhelming sense of something missing.
In the cultured middle class drawing rooms of nineteenth century Europe with their pianos, it was not a new phenomenon to have your music for large ensemble arranged for the amateur pianist to enjoy, and Brahms himself was not averse to arranging his own music, as well as that of other composers, thereby ensuring their popularity whilst earning more money from editions other than those larger forms for which the pieces were originally composed. Brahms used two pseudonyms, G W Marks and Karl Würth, when publishing these pieces, some of which were original salon pieces that it seems Brahms did not feel worthy to be published under his own name.
Paul Klengel (1854-1935) was a composer in his own right, but is more associated with being a violinist, conductor and teacher, while his cellist brother Julius is remembered as the teacher of the likes of Emanuel Feurmann, Gregor Piatigorsky and William Pleeth. Klengel was just one of many musicians who specialised in arranging works by composers as diverse as Lully and Elgar for solo piano, although he seems to have specialised in the music of Brahms, with the composers blessing.
These arrangements are engaging and virtuosic, and I imagine that you would have had to be a more than competent pianist to do the music justice. Just listening to the Final: Allegro con brio of the Horn trio, you come to appreciate how complex and faithful to the original these arrangers were. The excitement of that movement is not lost despite the lack of instruments, although it took me a couple of listenings to stop hearing the horn in my head. This is a problem; I couldn’t help filling in the other instruments, even though that is not Klengel’s fault. I do the same with Liszt’s arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies or Zemlinsky’s arrangement for piano four hands of Mahler’s 6th Symphony, although in the case of the latter, that was made less for the home and more for the music societies of Vienna. The piano writing is ingenious; one fully experiences the spirit of the works performed here. The question, though, is whether capturing just the spirit is sufficient; I found myself returning to the originals, as I do with the Liszt and Zemlinsky.
Christopher Williams gives an excellent performance of both works, which, if you don’t know the originals, are very engaging and convincing, the problem being that I could not divorce the original compositions from these arrangements. The booklet notes are very good as is the recorded sound, the engineers using the usual reverberant acoustic of the Wyastone Concert Hall to the advantage of the recording. An interesting disc, therefore, rather than an essential one.