Brahms Klavierstücke, Opp. 76, 118 & 119; Rhapsodies, Op. 79; Fantasias, Op. 116; Intermezzi, Op. 117
Charles Owen (piano)
Avie AV2397 116:03 mins (2 discs)
This pair of discs from Charles Owen contains all of Brahms’s late piano pieces. Listening to this wonderful music – and especially the 20 pieces written in 1892, and published in four sets as Opp. 116-119 – we may imagine Brahms himself deriving solace from it in the loneliness of his final years as he composed, or perhaps initially improvised, it. ‘The cradle songs of my sufferings’ was how he once referred to the three Intermezzos, Op. 117, though only the first of them is an actual lullaby. Owen plays it quite beautifully, while in the last piece from the same series his sotto voce tone carries an admirable sense of hushed drama.
This is altogether very impressive playing, capturing all the intimacy of the pieces which Brahms labelled as Intermezzos, as well as the drama and urgency of the more outward-going Capriccios. Among the highlights are the quietly agitated lyricism Owen brings to the last of the Eight Pieces Op. 76, the quiet coda in the first of the pair of Rhapsodies Op. 79, and the impulsive quality of the third and last of the Fantasies Op. 116. Just occasionally, Owen’s playing seems to lack impetus, and sounds a little ‘notey’ – the fifth of the Op. 76 series, for instance, or the fourth from Op. 118; and the Grazioso e giocoso penultimate number of Op. 119 could have done with a lighter touch. The performances as a whole have so much to offer, however, that it feels a little churlish to complain. What stays in the memory after listening to Owens is the imagination and warmth of his playing, perfectly captured by the recording engineers.