Barry Douglas performs Brahms’s Solo Piano Works, Vol. 6

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Solo Piano Works, Vol. 6: Rakoczy March; Intermezzo, Op. 118/6; Canon, Anhang III No. 2; Gigue, Wo0 4 posth. Nos 1 & 2; Capriccio, Op. 76/5; Intermezzo, Op. 76/7; Capriccio, Op. 76/8; Gavotte by Gluck, Anhang la No. 2; Studies Nos 1-3 & 5; Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 Nos 2, 4, 6-10
PERFORMER: Barry Douglas (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10903  

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Barry Douglas’s series of the complete Brahms solo piano music has proved immensely rewarding, and Volume 6 is no exception. He has elected to mix and match the selection of works on each disc in a very personal way, so that the pieces complement one another while also providing ample contrast. 

This latest disc places a handful of the more elusive late Capriccios and Intermezzos within a programme largely made up of transcriptions – whether the Hungarian Dances, effectively reworkings of music Brahms filched from Gypsy café bands, or some striking, eye-wateringly difficult studies that he created from works you’d think were quite difficult enough already, notably Chopin’s Etude in F minor, Op. 25 No. 2, its melodic line now in sixths. 

The juxtapositions sometimes have the welcome effect of highlighting the influences at work: for instance, Douglas plays the Intermezzo Op. 118 No. 6 without the impression of swirling mists it so often acquires, instead allowing the clarity to convey a contrapuntal, almost Bachian side of its nature. Conversely the Hungarian Dances become meaty meditations on the czardas. And just as Brahms came to ‘own’ the works he transcribed, Douglas has come to own him, too: he crowns the disc with a truly magisterial account of the Bach D minor Chaconne for violin, rethought by Brahms for the pianist’s left hand alone.

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Jessica Duchen