Schumann Piano Duet Arrangements from Naxos

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

From the early 19th century up until the early 20th the piano was your home entertainment center, before radio and recordings were invented or widely available. This meant that if you wanted to check out Brahms’ new symphony or Verdi’s new opera, either you had to attend a live performance or play it on the piano, usually with friends or family members. This is why most orchestral, choral, operatic, and chamber works were disseminated in the form of four-hand piano arrangements.

As an avid duet player, Robert Schumann not only wrote delightful original pieces in this genre but also supervised four-hand arrangements of his works, although he created relatively few of these himself. At first Otto Dresel’s arrangement of the A major String Quartet Op. 41 No. 3 met with Schumann’s approval; nevertheless, the composer made revisions, adding slower metronome indications to better accommodate the piano’s extended register and sonority. In fact, Schumann listed this arrangement in his catalog of works. Here the Dresel/Schumann A major quartet receives its premiere recording as part of the first of a projected seven-disc survey of Schumann piano duet arrangements by the composer, his friends, and associates.

You can’t help but respect the Eckerle Piano Duo’s meticulously calibrated ensemble values and rhythmic exactitude, although a slightly faster second movement basic tempo might convey the composer’s agitato directive more effectively. Surprisingly, the Piano Quintet’s strong textural contrasts and sense of interplay between musicians loses very little in translation to the piano duet medium, possibly due to Clara Schumann’s intelligent balancing of registers and liberal yet discreet deployment of octave doublings.

By contrast, Theodor Kirchner’s transcription published by C. F. Peters is more conservatively laid out for two players, and consequently is less interesting to hear, although much easier to play. Again, the Eckerle Duo has worked out the balances, tempo relationships, dynamic scaling, and pedaling to an impressively polished degree; you’ll never hear the Scherzo’s ornaments so uniformly and accurately articulated, for example. At the same time, I prefer the shapely exuberance, supple playfulness, and conversational give and take that the Duo d’Accord brings to its Oehms Classics world-premiere recording. Piano-arrangement mavens considering this release may be further tempted by its excellent sound, plus Joachim Draheim’s well-written and informative booklet notes.

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Recording Details:

    String Quartet in A major Op. 41 No. 3 (arr. for piano duet by Otto Dresel, rev. by the composer); Piano Quintet in E-flat major Op. 44 (arr. for piano duet by Clara Schumann)

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