Brahms Works For Solo Piano

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COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms Works For Solo Piano
WORKS: Rhapsodies Op. 79 Nos 1 & 2; Capriccios Op. 116 Nos 1, 3 & 7; Intermezzo, Op. 116 No. 4; Intermezzo, Op. 118 No. 2; Intermezzo, Op. 117 No. 1; Romance, Op. 118 No. 5; Ballade, Op. 10 No. 4; Handel Variations
PERFORMER: Barry Douglas (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN10716

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A purple Brahms patch from this fulsome-toned pianist proves to be more than 77 minutes of warm, enveloping delight. Barry Douglas’s approach is straightforward and eschews any temptation towards novelty for the sake of it; instead, he goes for the music’s emotional jugular, enhanced by beautiful, rich tone and structural rigour.

His selection from the late piano works juxtaposes pieces of contrasting character, mixing and matching them according to their nature rather than chronology; and he captures Brahms’s spirit in the sound itself – a traditional approach, perhaps, but still ideal, with all its opaque Viennese darkness and eloquent legato. Even with a resonant background and plenty of pedal, there is clarity, too: his voicing of contrapuntal lines is masterfully handled. The choice of pieces is gorgeous, and includes a short escapee from Brahms’s early works – the last of the Ballades, Op. 10 – which sits surprisingly well amid Brahms’s Indian summer works, as if proving that the latter grew from seeds planted much earlier.

The climax is provided by the Handel Variations, where Douglas seems to exult in contrasted characterisations, unified by crisp rhythms, an oak-strong centre and a tautly woven contrapuntal fabric with luxurious sheen. It builds to a magnificent and spacious fugue. But even with all that logic, intellect and muscular sound in place, Douglas still allows his head to be led ultimately by his heart, which is what gives the disc its X Factor. Realised with deep affection in a welcoming acoustic (Cambridge’s West Road concert hall), this is a very satisfying listen.

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Jessica Duchen