Brahms: Klavierstücke, Opp. 76, 118 & 119

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Phaedra
WORKS: Klavierstücke, Opp. 76, 118 & 119
PERFORMER: Jozef de Beenhouwer (piano)
Beenhouwer is a musician to his gifted fingertips – a loving pianist from whom an unlovely tone would be almost unthinkable, and a Brahmsian whose affinity with the composer is evident in almost every note he plays. Not for him the tired but still reiterated canard that Brahms’s piano writing is thick and stodgy. He is a natural lyricist with a keen awareness that the secret of a truly Brahmsian sonority lies not in chunky chords and heavy pedalling but in the intertwining (often ravishing) of melodic lines. No composer-pianist of his time was more richly acquainted with or more deeply influenced by the vocal traditions of the 16th and 17th centuries than Brahms. Nor did any choral conductor do more to enlighten his contemporaries by bringing this music to life in concert after concert. Another thing which Beenhouwer beautifully conveys is the extreme intimacy which characterises so much of late Brahms, but this doesn’t lead him to understate the dramatic, even symphonic elements which are also there. His playing of the G minor Ballade and the great final Rhapsody (what a swansong!) is splendidly forthright. What I don’t find in his playing here is that tiny, subtle, extra degree of dynamic contrast and tonal coloration which lifts the playing of, say, Radu Lupu, in the same music, from the very good indeed to the great and transfiguring. The difference between the greatest talent and true genius is often disturbingly slight, but that slightness, as here, is cruelly decisive. Jeremy Siepmann