The Notos Quartett and The Schönberg Effect [Sony]

Brahms & Notos Quartett – The Schönberg Effect
4 of 5 stars

Brahms
Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor, Op.25
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90 [arranged for piano quartet by Andreas N. Tarkmann]

Notos Quartett [Sindri Lederer (violin), Andrea Burger (viola), Philip Graham (cello), Antonia Köster (piano)]

Recorded in the Kammermusiksaal des DLF, Cologne, Germany on 14-18 April 2020


Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: SONY 19439848002
Duration: 71 minutes

This Sony CD from the Notos Quartett confirms the German chamber group as a premiere-league ensemble. They have been together for 14 years and have an earlier CD (including the Bartok Piano Quartet) under their belt. I sincerely hope they ride out the pandemic privations of the past year.

The title of this release, ‘The Schönberg Effect’, refers to Schoenberg’s mighty orchestration of the equally mighty First Piano Quartet by Brahms, the point being that they pay back the compliment with Andreas N. Tarkmann’s arrangement for piano quartet of Brahms’s Third Symphony. The Op.25 Piano Quartet, which Brahms wrote when he was still in his twenties, is bursting at the seams with ideas, boldness and grandeur, and it takes to the orchestra like a duck to water. The Symphony No. 3, completed in 1883 when Brahms was firmly in bearded and solid middle age, is, like Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’, in F major and is generally more intimate than the other three – and is a good ten minutes shorter than Op. 25. Structurally it is less elaborate, each movement ends quietly, and the work as a whole is justly famous for its luminous, meditative woodwind scoring. On the evidence of this arrangement, Tarkmann is very skillful in the art of suggestion, and I found myself constantly being absorbed by his and the Notos’s subtle illumination of Brahms’s meticulous craft. The two inner movements work particularly well, and the players’ ear for detail and avoidance of striving for orchestral colour is deeply satisfying. While the balance is very even, occasionally I had to fiddle with the volume, and, while the arrangement is true to the spirit of this particular work, I’m not sure it would suit, say, the Fourth Symphony.

But then again, listen to what the Notos players do with the Piano Quartet No. 1. This is a stupendous performance, which entirely gets the point of Brahms’s youthful energy and ambition. Antonia Köster’s piano playing is suitably aristocratic without being overwhelming, the ensemble between her and the three string players is clean, detailed, delicate as required, and miraculously, elastically organic; Sindri Lederer’s violin tone is opulent and beautifully voiced; Andrea Burger’s viola playing is ideal for this sort of repertoire; and Philip Graham endows the cello part with rich lyricism. Together they have worked out the work’s accumulative strengths, and the result is breathtaking. I’m still reeling from the sheer power of the Andante’s middle section. Highly recommended.

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