Brahms: Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor; 4 Ballads, Op. 10

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Opus
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor; 4 Ballads, Op. 10
PERFORMER: Grigory Sokolov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 111 OPS 30-103 DDD
Brahms had completed his three grandly conceived piano sonatas and the set of Four Ballades, Op. 10, by the time he was 21. They are astonishingly mature works, and the last of the Ballades, with its serene, ruminative middle section, actually looks forward across the decades to the music of Brahms’s last years. As for the sonatas, Schumann aptly described them as ‘more like veiled symphonies’. The F minor is the largest of them, with an additional movement, placed between the scherzo and the finale, which harks back to the slow movement, recasting its material in the form of a funeral march, complete with an evocation of muffled drums. Grigory Sokolov captures its atmosphere well, though his consistent elongation of the theme’s dotted rhythm is curious.

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At first, I found Sokolov’s tempo fluctuations at the opening of the Sonata somewhat exaggerated, but there is no doubting his command of the music’s structure, and the vividness with which he conveys its subdued tension. The performances were given in front of a restive Parisian audience, and Sokolov has not been well served by his engineers: the sound is uncomfortably close, and a few passages in an ill-matching acoustic betray ‘patches’ recorded after the event. Misha Donat