Brahms: Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 2; Seven Fantasies, Op. 116; Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 2; Seven Fantasies, Op. 116; Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119
PERFORMER: Emanuel Ax (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 69284 DDD
This impressive recital spans Brahms’s entire career as a composer of piano music. The Sonata, Op. 2, was one of the works which the twenty-year-old genius played to the astonished Robert and Clara Schumann in 1853. (Schumann described Brahms’s sonatas as ‘more like veiled symphonies’.) Four decades later, Brahms began sending his series of late pieces – ‘the cradle songs of my sufferings’, as he once called them – to Clara. Their largely intimate, ruminative style could hardly contrast more strongly with the assertiveness of the Sonata, though the last piece of all surprisingly makes a return to Brahms’s early heroic manner.

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In his accompanying booklet notes, Emanuel Ax quotes from a letter Brahms sent to Clara Schumann, apropos the first of the Op. 119 Pieces: ‘Every bar and every note must sound like a ritard., as though one wanted to wrench melancholy out of every single one.’ Ax’s lingering performance hauntingly conveys the atmosphere of mournful resignation – indeed, time and again throughout this recital I was struck by the beauty of his tone and phrasing, and his ability immediately to capture the music’s mood and character. Sony’s recording is warm and full, and the disc is strongly recommended. Misha Donat