Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor Op.5 (1853) [35:26]
Four Ballades Op.10 (1854) [21:06]
Daniel Barenboim (piano)
rec. February 1996, Orchestra Hall, Chicago
WARNER APEX 2564 67317-6 [57:01]

This is another in Apex’s ex-Teldec line. This time we revisit Barenboim’s 1996 recordings of the Third Sonata and the Op.10 Ballades of Brahms, recordings made at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

This was Barenboim’s first solo piano outing for Teldec, and it still sounds valuable music-making over fifteen years later. He chose youthful repertoire, pieces written in adjacent years, effulgent and romantic, and he responded appropriately, conveying the sheer intensity of expression enshrined in Brahms’s writing. His tempi are unremarkable in that respect, neither ridiculously quick nor lethargic. If anything he inclines to moments of briskness at points, to keep the spine of the music at all times audible. He makes no attempt to evince panache in the powerful chordal flourishes of the opening movement of the sonata, but nor is his playing granitic, or unduly thickened. He is at his most magisterial in this first movement where Clifford Curzon, for example, was famously tempestuous, driving through the music with a rapidity that remains imperishable. However Barenboim is predictably astute in the slow movement, tauter indeed than Curzon by some way, whilst not forfeiting much by way of ostensible warmth. The Scherzo is vigorously played – one can hear the pedalling cleanly in Orchestra Hall and his finale nobly conceived, tonally rich and a fitting end to a fine, though not technically facile performance.

The Ballades attest to his identification with these miniatures, not least in the case of the assertively projected, richly dramatic D minor. But he plays all four with wisdom and a keen ear for characterization.

Whilst the sonata performance is enviably projected I wouldn’t put it into anything like the Curzon or Katchen class, fine though it is. It provides a good opportunity to enjoy Barenboim’s agreeably magisterial, but rhythmically alert approach to the solo works in finely recorded perspective.

Jonathan Woolf

A good opportunity to enjoy Barenboim’s agreeably magisterial, but rhythmically alert approach.