Malcolm MacDonald on Brahms opus 26

Rehearsals have been going well for this weekend’s performance of my arrangement of the Brahms A major Piano Quartet for orchestra in Guildford. For some reason, the A major has always been the least played of the Brahms Piano Quartets. I’m sure it’s absolutely epic scale puts some groups off, but I know many of my chamber music colleagues seem to feel it’s a weaker piece than either the G minor or C minor, or, for that matter, the much more famous Piano Quintet.

I’ve always loved the piece, and spending so much one-on-one time with it lately has really made me admire it all the more. Fortunately, I’m not alone in my affection for the piece, and, predictably, I was able to find a few wise words about it in the much-missed Malcolm MacDonald’s invaluable book on Brahms. He really was one of the most perceptive writers on music I’ve ever come across.*


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* Even though he really loved the Schoenberg orchestration of opus 25, which I did finally re-listen to over the weekend with much alarm. Hearing Brahms’s infinitely honest music dressed up in Hollywood regalia feels a little like I would imagine it would feel seeing one’s mother dressed up as a lady of the night. It sounds like opus 25 has been given a roofie. I hope I’ve allowed opus 26 to keep its dignity.

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American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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