Brahms: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5; Ballades, Op. 10

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5; Ballades, Op. 10
PERFORMER: Lars Vogt (piano)
This is a highly personal, often idiosyncratic recording by a pianist whose seriousness, intelligence and instrumental command have never been in doubt. Vogt combines a powerfully impressive musical instinct with an analytical intellect second to none. There are times here, however (especially in the F minor Sonata), when the latter threatens to hog the limelight, at the expense of the former. Like Glenn Gould, whose spirit seems to hover lovingly over much of the performance, Vogt will often feature hitherto unrevealed inner voices at the expense of the main melodic line. The imbalance is chiefly regrettable because it distracts one’s attention from what may well be the most meticulously and imaginatively thought out interpretation of this work that I’ve ever come across. And perhaps the most revelatory. I’ve learned more about the piece from Vogt here than from any other single performance. His x-ray illumination of the music’s polyphonic aspect, like his delineation of large-scale structure, is both fascinating and stimulating, and his timing strikes me as faultless from start to finish. The rhythm always moves, and the melodic inflection is beautifully supple and varied. Apart from the didactic exaggerations already mentioned, my only disappointment concerns Vogt’s tonal palette. Lean, hardish, though never actively strident, it seems to me to lack the warmth and sensuality which are such a hallmark of Brahms’s sound-world. No such shortcomings mar Artur Rubinstein’s rich, full-blooded and markedly unintellectual 1959 account of all these pieces on RCA, though sonically it’s beginning to show its age. Jeremy Siepmann