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

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Discover International
WORKS: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5; Four Ballades, Op. 10
PERFORMER: David Lively (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DICD 920123 DDD (distr. Complete Record Company)
Brahms composed his F minor Sonata when he was 20, but, though youthful, it’s a gigantic work – the ‘young eagle’, as Schumann dubbed him, spreading his wings.The first movement needs to be stormy and passionate and, as marked, both allegro and maestoso. Here it’s none of these. The tempi are slow and much of the playing is laboured and pedestrian. Brahms asks for a number of ritenutos, but he places them in the context of long, sweeping phrases, clearly intending brief relaxations of tempo, before resuming the basic pulse. Lively stops at each one as if at traffic lights, and this halting delivery mars both the outer movements. The Scherzo and Intermezzo are more acceptable, but the sonata never really takes wing. It needs tauter playing than this and much more fire.

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The Ballades are more sensitively handled, with some appreciation of their widely varying moods and characters, but Idil Biret (Naxos) plays the same programme with much more conviction. Otherwise, for the sonata, Murray Perahia (Sony) is in a class of his own. Wadham Sutton