Brahms: Fantasies, Op. 116; Intermezzi, op. 117; Klavierstucke, opp. 118 & 119

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: Fantasies, Op. 116; Intermezzi, op. 117; Klavierstucke, opp. 118 & 119
PERFORMER: Helene Grimaud (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-14350-2
I have waited a long time for this. Although Brahms’s four sets of late piano pieces are classics, there aren’t many discs with them all together. Wilhelm Kempff’s recording of all Opp. 116 to 119, made in 1963, is still available on DG Galleria and, in its way, it is irreplaceable, mellow and gorgeous. But Grimaud has her own way, which is every bit as valid, and with a spacious, brilliant modern recording, the sound-picture is altogether different from the Kempff disc.

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Grimaud is like a fine thoroughbred, every nerve aquiver, and she does a good deal to loosen textures, making you aware of what each note contributes. Yet she is also very natural – she doesn’t strain after effect. In the passionate opening Intermezzo of Op. 118, she gets straight to the point. She doesn’t let out the seams between phrases, for there’s no fat on her Brahms. He’s lean, fit and clear-headed, yet not insensitive – quite the reverse. The sad, inward-looking Intermezzo in A minor, Op. 116/2, couldn’t be more tender or haunting, and it’s the melancholy in Brahms which Grimaud often seeks out, even when it lingers behind the marking ‘Grazioso e giocoso’ in the C major Intermezzo, Op. 119/3, one of the most elusive to capture.

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There are endless riches of thought and feeling in this playing; technically superb, very lightly pedalled, it makes its points by subtlety and noble reserve. An outstanding disc. Adrian Jack