Brahms: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5; 16 Waltzes, Op. 39

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LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5; 16 Waltzes, Op. 39
PERFORMER: Antti Siirala (piano)
Antti Siirala’s approach to Brahms’s F minor Sonata resembles not so much an interpretation as a carefully orchestrated corporate takeover. To be sure, Siirala totally plays by the book, so to speak, encompassing the challenging writing without a glitch. He has measured the trajectory of each phrase to the last nanosecond, and scaled the dynamics to micro-managed specifications. Inner counterpoints are painstakingly weighed and voiced. Siirala’s studied workmanship, however, embodies the perfection one associates with waxed fruit. There’s little of the passion, warmth and surging lyrical impetus that resides between the music’s gnarly lines. Brahms’s massive rolled chords, for example, require more resonance and sustaining power than Siirala’s bleak efficiency suggests, let alone the rich, bottom-to-top sonorities pianists like Arthur Rubinstein, Clifford Curzon, Claudio Arrau and Emanuel Ax coax from the keyboard. Compare any of these artists in the slow movement alongside Siirala’s cool calculation and hear for yourself. To his credit, Siirala lets his guard down in the relatively lightweight Waltzes, playing up the composer’s fondness for inserting groups of two-bar phrases within the dances’ three-bar form. True, he doesn’t quite match Julius Katchen’s impetuous demeanour, or the nervous energy of Leon Fleisher’s classic mono recording, yet Siirala’s communicative gifts manifest themselves more convincingly here than in the Sonata. Jed Distler