Originally published on April 15

The prize on this eighty-five-minute release of first recordings is Robin Holloway’s 2008 orchestration of Brahms’s Sonata for Two Pianos, Opus 34a, which became the magnificent F-minor Piano Quintet, and is now designated as a Symphony in that key. Holloway’s scoring is crystal-clear in absorbing the music’s themes and counterpoints into an orchestra piece, not always idiomatic as to what the composer might have done if on a par with Schoenberg (the G-minor Piano Quartet, although Holloway resists percussion save for timpani) and is resourceful and ear-catching, making for diverse and illuminating listening.

Holloway (born 1943) respects the shape and size of Brahms’s four-movement Sonata (including the exposition repeat in the first of them) and while his colours can be a little too trumpet-y there is some exquisite writing for strings, heard to best advantage in the malleable Andante. The Scherzo (with trombones) is stately and powerful, the mellifluous Trio touching the heart, and the Finale, following a shadowy introduction, slinks along amiably and, as the finishing post gets closer (including a passage that now comes across as Elgarian) it is reached with determination and resolution.

Paul Mann and the BBCSO give a fine account and they also do proud Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Schumann (Opus 23, for piano duet), and Schumann himself, the Opus 56 Canonic Studies, Holloway turning to Debussy’s two-piano arrangement as his source. Holloway’s transcriptions are always ‘from the inside’, and the Studies are particularly delightful, not least because of some Gallic touches. Toccata Classics TOCC 0450, which includes an essay by Holloway and is very well recorded at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studio No.1, is released on May 5.

https://toccataclassics.com/product/brahms-by-arrangement-volume-two-orchestrations-by-robin-holloway/