Brahms: Nicholas Angelich

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Fantasien, Op. 116; Intermezzi, Op. 117; Klavierstücke, Opp. 118 & 119
PERFORMER: Nicholas Angelich (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 379 3022

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Brahms’s late solo piano pieces, composed in the 1890s, are among the most beautiful things he ever produced. But, wonderfully inventive as they are, they also expose his vulnerable, depressive side as few of the larger-scale works do.

Steering a balanced course between imaginative vitality and warmth on one side and resigned melancholy on the other can be difficult, but Nicholas Angelich manages it with a kind of panache. He takes you to the brink of inconsolable sadness one moment, only to put a refreshing spring in the step of a dance movement the next.

The balancing extends in other directions. Brahms’s piano writing can sound thick and heavy-booted on modern pianos (especially in the left-hand), but Angelich manages to keep the melody lines fluid and shapely, and bring light to the textures without emasculating that rich bass sound so typical of Brahms.

The climax of the E flat minor Intermezzo (No. 6 of Op. 118) sounds as deep and sonorous as Rachmaninov, yet how quickly Angelich recovers the piece’s original delicacy in the music that follows – beautiful pedalling too.

For all his respect for tone weight, Angelich can also make Brahms sound deliciously light and transparent: the E major Intermezzo (No. 4 of Op. 116) is a virtually a sustained demonstration of this ‘gossamer’ Brahms, yet at no point does it feel as though Angelich has imposed a partisan view on the music – the colours and textures all seem to emerge quite naturally from the printed notes.

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The recording is round-toned and very clear, full and ripe in fortissimos, and just attentive enough to lead the ear inside the most fragile pianissimo. Very impressive all round. Stephen Johnson