Brahms 16 Waltzes; 21 Hungarian Dances
Hélène Mercier, Cyprien Katsaris (piano)
Warner Classics 9029563666 70:36 mins
In their first recording together, Hélène Mercier and Cyprien Katsaris followed Robert Schumann transcribed by Clara with Brahms arranged by Brahms. The two-piano adventure continues with more of the latter, but featuring a twist that’s not entirely successful: that is, to interlace Hungarian Dances with the Op. 39 Waltzes, neither in order. While the Magyar would-be wildness could do with breaking up, the Viennese homage is a string of short pieces that ideally need to be heard in sequence. There are, even so, some piquant connections – contrasting strains in the same key (which Brahms was not averse to doing within the Hungarian set as well), extroversion and introspection.
The problem is that in neither does the duo go far enough. The gypsy music is neither wild nor, when needed – in the D minor No. 11 – sensuous enough. Some of the later waltzes, the E major especially, do charm, but the tintinnabulating upper register – Mercier and Katsaris change places between sets – takes too much getting used to, especially in the church acoustic; a drier sound would have been welcome. And I still prefer the waltzes in Brahms’s solo-piano version, as magically rendered by Stephen Kovacevich.