Barry Douglas: Brahms – Works for Solo Piano, Volume V

Solo piano works, Vol. 5: Paganini Variations, Book 2; Intermezzos Opp. 76/3 & 4, 118/1, 4 & 6; Scherzo in E flat minor; Variations on an Original Theme in D, Op. 21/1; Variations on a Hungarian Song, Op. 21/2; Sarabandes, Wo05 posth.; Hungarian Dances Nos 1, 3 & 5

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Barry Douglas: Brahms – Works for Solo Piano, Volume V
WORKS: Solo piano works, Vol. 5: Paganini Variations, Book 2; Intermezzos Opp. 76/3 & 4, 118/1, 4 & 6; Scherzo in E flat minor; Variations on an Original Theme in D, Op. 21/1; Variations on a Hungarian Song, Op. 21/2; Sarabandes, Wo05 posth.; Hungarian Dances Nos 1, 3 & 5
PERFORMER: Barry Douglas (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10878

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Barry Douglas’s decision in his Brahms series to mix and match pieces intuitively, rather than employing a strict sequence of genre or chronology, has given this series a pleasing personal slant, and Vol. 5 is no exception. Building the programme around three very different sets of variations, Douglas intersperses the more substantial works with palate-cleansing intermezzos, two little-known early Sarabandes – apparent fugitives from an unfinished Baroque-inspired suite or two – and one of Brahms’s not-so-jokey scherzos, the rugged Op. 4.

Indeed, if you like your Brahms super-rugged, this CD will not disappoint. Douglas’s powerful tone and serious demeanour captures the composer’s uncompromising side; yet there’s a sense of flow that makes the intermezzos generous and warm without veering towards the emotionally indulgent. The Variations on a Hungarian Song and the Hungarian Dances are served on the bone with sour cream aplenty. But perhaps the centrepiece of the disc and the epitome of its many admirable qualities is a terrifically strong performance of the Paganini Variations, Book 2, in which virtuosity serves musical intent at every moment.

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Even if some of the works might benefit from a slightly lighter touch – the Hungarian Dances are a case in point, but also I wouldn’t like to be underneath the piano when that Scherzo is going on – Douglas’s unfailing richness of tone, his sense of affection for the music and the inventive and enjoyable programming make this disc a treat. Jessica Duchen