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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Fantasien Op.116 (1892)
Capriccio [2.28]; Intermezzo [4.26]; Capriccio [3.32]; Intermezzo [4.37]; Intermezzo [2.47]; Intermezzo [3.40]; Capriccio [2.13]
Intermezzi Op.117 (1892)
No.1 [4.42]; No.2 [4.05]; No.3 [6.10]
Klavierstücke Op.118 (1893)
Intermezzo  [1.52]; Intermezzo [6.18]; Ballade [3.25]; Intermezzo [2.44]; Romanze [3.53]; Intermezzo [5.06]
Klavierstücke Op.119 (1893)
Intermezzo [3.36]; Intermezzo [5.11]; Intermezzo [1.32]; Rhapsodie [4.22]
Elena Kuschnerova (piano)
Recorded Studios 1 and 2, Bavarian Radio, 2002-04
ARS PRODUKTION 38 436 [77.00]


Warmly recorded by Bavarian Radio with little if any of the studio objectivity that can harden into coldness this is an attractive example of Elena Kuschnerova’s credentials as a Brahmsian. Taking Opp.116-119 as a programme clearly has dangers, not least those of a certain want of contrast and of a succession of intermezzi and Capriccios. Yet there are plenty of opportunities for her to vest them with her authority and as a disc that explores this chunk of the repertoire, she does so with sensibility.

Op.116 shows her priorities. Less flinty and staccato based than Kempff’s 1960s DG cycle her opening Capriccio employs far more pedal and longitudinal bass sonorities. She is inclined to indulge the slower movements in a way that Kempff is not – maybe to some his way is rather brusque and anti-Romantic – though the corollary is that the older player tended to mine a vein of whimsical humour that she rather obscures; that’s certainly the case in the first intermezzo.  She takes a good, decisive tempo in the second Capriccio, pausing for the central section but slightly disruptively for the good of the longer line.

In Op.117 we find that Kempff retains a certain affectionate aloofness in the first of the three Intermezzi whilst Kuschnerova punches out some left hand bass lines to good, dramatic effect, as indeed we find in the following intermezzi where she etches a considerable amount of detail, without becoming at all over refined. In the first of Op.116 she is inclined to be a touch emphatic and heavy leading to a certain rhythmic inflexibility but she is richly romantic in the famous second Intermezzo of the set, simply laying out a rich carpet of tonal allure. Kempff by contrast tends more to an Andantino than a true Andante, determined not to sink into a morass of sentiment. Still she clearly has reserves of bravura and in the Ballade she unfurls some muscular and swinging rhythm, contrasting with Kempff’s more loquacious, chatty and lighter inflexions. Her Romanze is very poetic indeed. Of the four pieces that comprise Op.119 she delineates the second Intermezzo neatly, and accents the third briskly and pointedly. As with almost all examples in these sets, Kempff is more pert and reserved than Kuschnerova.

A most worthwhile survey then - but a kind of mini encyclopaedic one. It has the strength of its convictions, with good notes and as I noted equally good sound.

Jonathan Woolf



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