Brahms: Intermezzos Op. 117; Intermezzo in A Op. 118/2; Rhapsodies Op. 79; Capriccio in F sharp minor Op. 76/1

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Intermezzos Op. 117; Intermezzo in A Op. 118/2; Rhapsodies Op. 79; Capriccio in F sharp minor Op. 76/1
PERFORMER: Ivo Pogorelich (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 437 460-2 DDD
The insert notes to these two CDs leave the listener in little doubt that the matter at hand is Pogorelich’s playing. In one breathtaking sentence we learn that Pogorelich’s ‘immense creativity and unprecedented rhythmical vitality’ place him in the same elite category as Horowitz when it comes to the sonatas of Scarlatti.

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Not everyone would agree. Even apart from the performances, some may worry about the use of a piano. On balance, I do not; indeed, the range of dynamic achievable on the piano can make some of the more sweeping Allegro sonatas seem a touch less relentless. There are occasions, of course, where the piano will not do, as in the pungent drones of K487 in C.

Pogorelich is at his best when he lets the piano have its head. K119 in D and K87 in B benefit enormously from dynamic contrasts. Other sonatas seem simply twee, notably K1 in D, and others seem intriguingly remote from Scarlatti’s intentions, for instance K11 in C.

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His way with Brahms seemed to me even more irritating. The intention, muses the insert note, seems to be to evoke the poetry which inspired Brahms: ‘… poems poised in the eternal moment of infinity, sculpted in time by Ivo Pogorelich’. The performance of Op. 76/1 goes far beyond the work’s expressive frame and the Intermezzo, Op. 118/2, seems more self-pitying than wistful. The argument is even harder to follow in the two Rhapsodies, Op. 79. The first two Intermezzi of Op. 117 fare better, but the third, presumably going in search of the ‘eternal moment’, pulls the line around in a curious manner. Although well recorded, I suspect that these two issues are strictly for Pogorelich admirers. Jan Smaczny