BRAHMS in Transcription = Symphonic Movements and Dances arranged for Piano – Uriel Tsachor – MSR

by | May 19, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS in Transcription = BRAHMS-REGER: Symphony No. 1: Andante sostenuto; BRAHMS-KIRCHNER: Hungarian Dance No. 15 in B-flat Major; BRAHMS-REGER: Symphony No. 2: Adagio non troppo; BRAHMS-KIRCHNER: Hungarian Dance No. 17 in F-sharp Major; BRAHMS-REGER: Symphony No. 3: Andante; BRAHMS-KIRCHNER: Hungarian Dance No. 26 in F Minor; BRAHMS-REGER: Symphony No. 3: Poco Allegretto; BRAHMS: Hungarian Dance No. 7 in F Major; BRAHMS-REGER: Symphony No. 4: Andante moderato; BRAHMS: Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G Minor; SCHUMANN-BRAHMS: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major: Scherzo; GLUCK-BRAHMS: Gavotte from Iphigenie en Aulide – Uriel Tsachor – MSR Classics MS 1721, 63:25 (11/1/19) ****:

Uriel Tsachor, an Israeli-born pianist, won the Boesendorfer-Empire Concours and the Concorso Busoni prizes, and he has been a laureate of the Queen Elisabeth competition in Brussels.  Tsachor graduated from the Tel-Aviv Academy and then attended the Juilliard School. Tschacor has earned a Doctorate in Music and enjoys the prestige of a Steinway artist. This all-Brahms tribute from 7-10 July 2019 testifies to Tsachor’s enduring affection for the music of Brahms and its capacity to adapt to the art of transcription.

Brahms had the first set of Hungarian Dances published in 1869 in Berlin via Nikolaus Simrock. The first ten, scored for one piano, four hands, meant to capture the Gypsy and Vienna ale-house experiences Brahms knew as a young player and as one who had toured with the violinist Remenyi. At Simrock’s request, Brahms transcribed some of the Dances for solo keyboard, but grudgingly, claiming that the “wild” character of the music, their sense of spontaneity, did not like to become “fixed improvisations.”  The more complex, even contrapuntal, second set of Dances emerged in 1880, but Brahms demurred on their solo transcription, so Simrock asked pianist-composer Theodor Kirchner (1820-1903) to assume the task, completed in 1881.  The first of these performed by Tsachor, No. 16 in B-flat Major, contains many of the tunes we know from the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No 12 in C-sharp minor.

Max Reger (1873-1916), besides having mastered the organ and polyphonic composition, remained a devotee, even an epigone, of Brahms, often imitating much of the Brahms oeuvre in his music. Between 1914-15, Reger studiously transcribed for piano slow movements from the Brahms four symphonies and submitted the scores to Simrock, who immediately responded, “Very good.” The E Major Adagio sostenuto from the Brahms C Minor Symphony retains its euphony, despite the loss of the particular oboe and violin colors. The B Major Adagio non troppo from the Symphony No. 2 in D Major proceeds by incremental variation, colored in the orchestral score by cellos and bassoons, yet the keyboard transcription allows the Brahms counterpoint and underlying tensions to emerge with compelling force. The second theme, Listesso tempo, ma grazioso, achieves a dignified resolve.

The Andante movement of the Symphony No. 3 in F Major exploits the ‘motto theme’ that sets the opening measures of the entire work: F – A-flat – F (up an octave) with A natural, to gravitate the music into the tonic major. The simple, folk-like melody assumes an ominous power as the music proceeds, but it relents into its personal idyll, free but sometimes lonely. The third movement of the Brahms Third, Poco Allegretto, contains a beautiful cello melody that haunts the 1946 film Undercurrent, with Katherine Hepburn and Robert Mitchum. Its melancholy, watery element might make it the musical equivalent for Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” The music’s intermezzo character exploits sequences and ostinatos in a compelling dialogue of “eternal sadness.” The staid harmonies of the Andante moderato of the Symphony No. 4 in E Minor present us with the composer’s sense of modal (Phrygian) harmony, as the music passes through a succession of martial sonorities, announced in the orchestral score by the horns in C Major. The movement evolves in sonata form and taut counterpoint, passing through modes of E and B, attaining in this sad march a pointed intimacy that often swells into a paean to inner tragedy.

Portrait of Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms

The Hungarian Dance No. 17 in F-sharp Minor remained an encore favorite of Jascha Heifetz. Its opening in a modal, gypsy scale soon breaks into a friss or verbunkos section, only to develop a new theme that Tsachor elaborates with pearly play. The Hungarian Dance No. 16 in F Minor stands as one of the few original Brahms pieces, not taken from Gypsy sources. Highly ornamented in its first few bars, then breaking into a frisky scalar pattern in the upper registers, whose sonority will anticipate the effects Brahms uses in his Paganini Variations. The relatively brief Hungarian Dance No. 7 in F Major begins as a kind of dialogue in staggered steps, becoming increasingly full in sonority and virtuosic in execution. The Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G Minor first impressed me in a recording by Erica Morini. A visceral sense of the Hungarian csardas saturates its pages, rich and passionate.

The two final transcriptions, directly from Brahms, address, respectively, the music of Robert Schumann and Christoph Willibald Gluck. Brahms showed Clara Schumann his transcription of the Scherzo from the E-flat Piano Quintet, Op. 44 on her birthday, 13 September 1845. Brahms utilizes his patented “thumb music” technique to divide the first of the Scherzo’s two trios, dividing the melodic line while the other fingers support the melody with what would have been the string lines.  The arpeggios and florid double notes create a singular, pianistic effect. In another tribute to Clara Schumann, Brahms transcribed in 1871 the Gavotte from Gluck’s Iphigenie in Aulide, a work first introduced to me via Elly Ney. The three-hand effect and double notes gently and transparently divide what would be pizzicatos in the orchestral version.

Mr. Tsachor duly notes that these Reger and Kirchner transcriptions here receive their world premiere recordings. The excellent sound reproduction comes to us courtesy of Ronald Lau and James Edel.

—Gary Lemco

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