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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano pieces

Four Ballades,Op.10
Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79
Eight piano pieces, Op.76
Seven Fantasies, Op.116 (1892)
Three Intermezzi, Op.117
Six piano pieces Op. 118
Four piano pieces, Op.119
Håkon Austbø (piano)
Recorded 18-20 March, 1-3 July 2002 at the Remonstrantse Doopsgezinde Gemeente, Deventer, Netherlands
STEMRA BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99941 [2 CDs: 62.14+77.09]


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The shorter Brahms piano works are more inward looking than the vivid romanticism of his contemporary, Schumann. Although Brahms was a brilliant pianist the grandiose gestures favoured by the 19th century virtuoso piano school put in few appearances in these works. Indeed, for all their lyrical beauty it would not be inappropriate to call these pieces ‘pure music’. Brahms did not favour imaginative titles, and the distinctions between Ballades, Fantasies, Rhapsodies, Intermezzi etc., refer more to their expressive nature than to strictly musical forms. From youth to maturity Brahms returned again and again to the keyboard to provide us with over two and a half hours of entrancing music. This is music that shows him in a more intimate light than do the sonatas, piano concertos and variations. The groupings are mainly chronological and serve to indicate an increasing development in style and scope.

The warm, clearly focused piano sound in this set is immediately likeable. It would be difficult to find a more sympathetic and intelligent interpreter than Håkon Austbø. After the salon atmosphere of the Ballades the two extrovert Rhapsodies come like a breath of fresh air. The Op. 76 piano pieces are mostly song-like, but with no ‘folksy’ connotations. Two are marked Grazioso, though the markings throughout suggest the composer’s preference for fairly lively tempi, which Austbø meticulously observes.

Though not fundamentally different in style from the earlier works, the later Opp, 116, 117, 118 and. 119 pieces show a bolder, more individual use of piano sonorities and greater harmonic freedom. Maybe in these relatively small forms Brahms was playfully experimenting with new ideas. The energetic D minor and G minor Capriccios in Op. 116 (classified as Fantasies) leave the listener unprepared for the eerie harmonies of the Intermezzi in E minor and E major. All four of the Op. 119 pieces show Brahms at his most beguiling. Wistful melodies provide a further opportunity for admiring Austbø’s impressive pianissimo, leading to the cheerful swagger of the E flat Rhapsody. Altogether this is a most satisfying set, nicely recorded, beautifully played and highly recommended to anyone who may yet think of Brahms as an old, bearded German symphonist.


Roy Brewer



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