Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Sonata No 2 in F flat Major Op. 2 (1852) [29.18]
Eight Piano Pieces Op. 76 (1871-1878): 1. Capriccio in
F sharp minor [3.55]; 2. Capriccio in B minor [3.45]; 3.
Intermezzo in A flat [3.20]; 4. Intermezzo in B flat major
[2.21]; 5. Capriccio in C sharp minor [3.25]; 6. Intermezzo
in A major [3.36]; 7. Intermezzo in A minor [3.02]; 8.Capriccio
in C major [4.34]
Three Intermezzi Op. 117 (1892): E flat major [5.28]; B
flat minor [5.17]; C sharp minor [7.21]
rec. 11-13 January 2008, Potton Hall, Suffolk. DDD LANDOR
This CD highlights Libor Novacek with its
cover and photographs … and why not. His biography is offered
at the back of the booklet which also contains a fascinating
essay by Jeremy Hayes on Brahms and on the recorded pieces.
Novacek was born in Prague. His reputation was
made with performances of Liszt and Brahms and by winning
the inaugural Landor Competition which has given him a
contract with this record company. His disc of Liszt won
the ‘Diplome d’Honneur’. He has performed in Britain -
I heard him at the ‘Three Choirs Festival’ - as well as
in places as far-flung as South America and Africa. I admit
immediately that I warmed to his music-making and was delighted
to hear this disc.
The main work is the early Sonata Op. 2 in F sharp.
The Op. 1 Sonata had been in C. It’s possible that they
were both conceived at the same time: 1852-3. Also in 1853
there was a third sonata in F minor Op. 5. It’s important
to remember that Robert Schumann was still alive at this
time. As with the Op. 76 pieces there is also a strong
emotional association with Clara Schumann. Indeed the first
of Op. 76, a deeply passionate Capriccio in F sharp minor,
was written for Clara to celebrate her birthday. Significantly
it also marks the anniversary of her wedding although by
then Robert had been dead for some twenty years. Anyway
back to the Sonata.
Curiously it is dedicated not to ‘The Schumanns'
but to ‘Clara Schumann in admiration’. It is in four movements
with the second, a set of variations on a 13th century
song attached to the third which is a Scherzo and Trio.
It has a powerful opening movement which amazed the Schumanns
- Clara calling it “a veiled symphony”. This however is
young-man’s music - Brahms was 20 when he first played
the piece to them - and it is therefore appropriate that
on this CD a young man is playing the work. Novacek captures
the thunderous power of the opening very well and also
has a lovely way of coaxing the second movement into existence.
You may feel that he loses his way a little in the finale.
If that is so then it may be because the slow music, which
also acts as a magical coda, reappears unexpectedly and
spoils the music’s seemingly unshadowed flow and clear
Op. 76 is divided into two separate sets not just
of Capriccios and Intermezzi but two of each per set. They
were written over a seven year span but published in two
distinct groups. The first four or first book are quite
emotionally contrasting. However the difference between
a Capriccio and an Intermezzo is not always as clear-cut
as you might think. The former tend towards a faster tempo
and are often of an agitated mood like the aforementioned
F# minor and indeed number five in C sharp minor. The Intermezzo
although often more melancholy and reflective like number
three in A flat major, this is not always the case. Brahms’ fingerprint
rhythm of three against two, or three against four - which
often, apparently, confused Clara - is used both in the
Capriccio in C sharp to create passion and instability.
Its successor, the Intermezzo in A major has a tune with
a gently flowing accompaniment. The liner-notes mention
Chopin as an influence in this Intermezzo. Robert Schumann
can be heard in the chromatic passages especially in the
surprisingly dark C major Capriccio. The notes also quote
Stephen Kovacevich who remarks that the opening of this
piece even presages Scriabin.
One of Brahms’ last publications was the Three
Intermezzi which end the CD - autumnal works if ever there
were any. Brahms called them “Three Lullabies for my suffering”.
The justly famous first one in E flat is based on a Scottish
Lullaby. The second one with its searching harmony was
much admired by Schoenberg. The ternary form third has
an incredibly sad opening unison melody the mood of which
is not dispersed by a contrasting middle section. Novacek
plays these with a suitable inwardness and introversion.
The recording helps here. Generally, although warm, it
does not let the instrument shine and glow. The Capriccios
could have done with that, but in these lyrical and rather
withdrawn Intermezzi the recording helps most effectively.
I have enjoyed this disc very much. It is not
a conveniently planned programme and throws up the unfamiliar
with the better known. Novacek has something to say about
each work and is obviously drawn to this repertoire. Altogether
this is a disc worth investigating.
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