Brahms Klavierstücke, Op. 118; Fantasias, Op. 116; Intermezzos, Op. 117; Scherzo in E flat minor, Op. 4
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
Hyperion CDA 68226 71:39 mins
Towards the end of his life, Brahms wrote a series of autumnally reflective piano miniatures that stand at or near the summit of his achievement. Their emotional potency is kept tantalisingly under super-heated pressure by a complex web of contrapuntal intricacy and motific organicism that was to exert a profound influence on Schoenberg and his disciples. The modern tendency to emphasise the music’s prescient structural compression rather than its musical expansiveness has led on occasion to a certain emotional reserve. What a relief therefore to encounter Garrick Ohlsson’s captivatingly immersive take on these glorious pieces, which in terms of its emotional thrust recalls the all-encompassing Julius Katchen (Decca).
When Clara Schumann first received the Op. 116 pieces she confided insightfully to her diary: ‘It really is incredible how things pour from him; it is wonderful how he combines passion and tenderness in the smallest of spaces.’ Ohlsson’s compelling performance of the set (indeed, all 17 pieces included here) could almost have been written in response – the music does indeed appear to ‘pour’ from his fingers as though as part of an incandescent flow, alternating the impassioned eloquence of the three capriccios and reflective intensity of the four intermezzos with a sensitivity of phrase, harmonic timing and textural voicing that is nostalgically beguiling. The early Scherzo might have benefited from an even greater sense of manic forward momentum, but that is to nit-pick in the face of one of the finest Brahms recitals of recent years.