Prokofiev has been much on the mind of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and its audiences because of a recording contract encompassing all five of the Russian composer’s piano concertos, with Vadym Kholodenko as the soloist.
But Prokofiev hasn’t been the only composer whose music the orchestra is putting on disc. A new CD, released on Harmonia Mundi in the midst of the Prokofiev project, includes rarities by Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski and Brahms.
Brahms? Rare? Yes. Rare because it’s Brahms as reimagined by modern-music icon Arnold Schoenberg. Brahms’ original, the Piano Quartet in G minor, is not so rare.
Music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya and his colleagues make a major impression with both pieces, especially the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, which is a workout for all of the instruments.
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Schoenberg’s orchestration of Brahms’ quartet is interesting partly because the two composers represent such a contrast in the musical public’s mind.
The concerto is a composition of great vigor and vivid contrasts. The outer movements provide high drama and opportunities for all sections of the orchestra to display their craft (the pounding rhythms of the opening bring to mind the beginning of Brahms’ first symphony, though the style is vastly different, of course). The gossamer middle movement should seduce even skeptics.
One note of caution: The engineers have reduced almost to inaudibility the sound level of the beginning of the third movement. I thought something had gone wrong with my equipment. But turning up the volume poses risks when the orchestra really opens up about a minute into the movement.
Schoenberg’s orchestration of Brahms’ quartet is interesting partly because the two composers represent such a contrast in the musical public’s mind. Yet the revolutionary Schoenberg was a great admirer of the conservative older composer, and the orchestration is a genuine tribute.
For the most part, Schoenberg stays true to the spirit of Brahms. The opening movement might well be mistaken for something Brahms himself did, and the Hungarian gypsy rondo, which closes the quartet, is a jolly spirit-lifter that would probably bring a smile to the older composer’s face.
There are a few miscues, the most prominent of them being crashing cymbals it would be hard to imagine Brahms employing, but still it’s a good-natured tribute to a great man.
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya
- Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra
- Brahms: Piano Quartet in G minor, orchestrated by Schoenberg
- Harmonia Mundi, $20