Nelson Freire’s ‘thoroughly engrossing recital’ of Brahms’s Piano Sonata No. 3

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 3; Intermezzo in A flat, Op. 76 No. 3; Intermezzo in B flat, Op. 76 No. 4; Capriccio in D minor, Op. 116 No. 1; Intermezzo in E, Op. 116 No. 4; Intermezzo in B flat minor, Op. 117 No. 2; Intermezzo in A, Op. 118 No. 2; Ballade in G minor, Op. 118 No. 3; Klavierstücke, Op. 119; Waltz, Op. 39 No. 15
PERFORMER: Nelson Freire (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 483 2154


Fifty years after he made his sensational recording debut with the F minor Piano Sonata, Nelson Freire has returned to this monumental work, making it the centrepiece of a thoroughly engrossing recital. Since his earlier recording is currently unavailable, it is impossible to glean to what extent his interpretation of the Sonata might have changed over this long period of time. All one can say is that Freire still projects the work’s youthful impetuosity, but manages at the same time to bring structural cogency to music that embraces a much greater degree of fantasy than many of Brahms’s later extended works. Above all, Freire’s phenomenal mastery of keyboard sonority ensures that the quasi-orchestral textures in the outer movements and Scherzo never sound hard edged. At the opposite end of the dynamic spectrum, the funereal tread of the fourth movement Intermezzo is spellbinding, as is the skilful way in which Freire negotiates the transition from this ghostly mood to the Finale, gradually notching up the intensity from the somewhat halting opening to the fiery and defiant closing pages.

The rest of the recording is made up of an imaginatively conceived overview of Brahms’s piano output that is varied in mood and tonality, but nonetheless moves chronologically from middle period works to the later Intermezzos, and is followed by the famous A flat major Waltz performed here with artful simplicity. 

Some might regret Freire’s decision to present only selected pieces from these sets, with only the Klavierstücke, Op. 119 performed in its entirety. But with playing that is in turns ethereal (Op. 119/1), impassioned (Op. 116/1), tender 

(Op. 118/2) and grandiose (Op. 119/4), this issue is of little consequence. 

Erik Levi