Brahms: Intermezzos Op. 117; Piano pieces Opp. 118 & 119

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Denon
WORKS: Intermezzos Op. 117; Piano pieces Opp. 118 & 119
PERFORMER: Valery Afanassiev (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CO 75090 DDD
‘The little piece is exceptionally gloomy,’ Brahms told Clara Schumann about the first in the Op. 119 set, ‘and “play very slowly” doesn’t say enough. Every bar and every note must sound like a ritardando, as if one wanted to wring gloom from every one of those dissonances.’ Valery Afanassiev seems to have taken the composer’s advice very much to heart, and has applied it not only to this B minor Intermezzo, but also – alas – to the remainder of the pieces recorded here. The well known lullaby that opens Op. 117 is played molto adagio, with languorous rubato, and is guaranteed to induce sleep after only four bars. The light-hearted C major Intermezzo Op. 119/3 is again rendered at more or less half-speed, its opening bathed in a haze of pedal more suited to Scriabin than Brahms. As for the gentle F major Romance from Op. 118, it sounds for all the world like adirge, with each ritardando stretched into infinity, and nowhere any sense of line.

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No doubt Afanassiev is scrupulously observing every last nuance of dynamic shading (there is some striking pianissimo playing), but in so doing he singularly fails to breathe life into the music. Misha Donat