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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Complete Piano Works
Louis Demetrius Alvanis; Håkon Austbø; Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy; Kamerhan Turan; Alan Weiss (piano)
rec. Vereinshaus, Fraulautern (CDs 1, 3, 4, 8), Hervordmde Kerk Rhoon, The Netherlands (CD 2), Doopsgezinde Gemeente Deventer, The Netherlands (CDs 5, 6), St. Edward the Confessor's Church, Mottingham (CD 7), 1994-2007. Stereo. DDD
Full track listing at end of review
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94091 [8 CDs: 473:12]

Experience Classicsonline

The piano music of Brahms is a bit of a mixed bag, in terms both of quality and style, so it seems reasonable to compile a complete set from recordings by a number of different pianists. In fact, there is more coherency here than the performers list might suggest. We have five pianists, from five different countries and yet, with the exception of one disc, all were recorded in the last ten years, and all were originally released by Brilliant Classics.

Most of Brahms' music for the piano responds well to level-headed interpretation without excesses of dynamics or tempo; if you don't agree try Glenn Gould. The success of these recordings is in no small part due to the measured and precise approach of each of the artists. There are plenty of performance directions in Brahms' scores, which you can ignore, but by presenting exactly what is on the page, while avoiding pedantry, these pianists present some enjoyable and wholly musical readings.

The early piano sonatas are performed by Kemerhan Turan and Alan Weiss, and both give impressively nuanced readings. There can be a danger with these works of excess, and the many densely voiced chords with loud dynamics can overpower everything that comes between. In fact both of these pianists manage to maintain a sense of intimacy in the quieter passages, while ensuring that the dramatic intensity of the outer movements is only ever relative.

The third and fourth discs are given over to the sets of Variations, on Paganini, Handel, Schumann, an original theme and a Hungarian song. They are not the composer's most inspired works, and two discs’ worth could get to be a drag. Fortunately, Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy is able to find the necessary variety and impetus to make it all tick along and maintain the interest. Perhaps pianists like this music better than I do, but I still think he drew the short straw on this project.

Håkon Austbø is the nearest thing to a household name among the pianists in the set, which may explain how he got to perform the more interesting music: the Ballades, Rhapsodies, and the famous sequence of late piano works Opp.116-19. He too avoids excesses of interpretation, although he shapes the phrases with a little more rubato than his colleagues. For me, these two discs are the highlight of the set, but I'll readily concede that that is as much to do with the repertoire as the performance.

Louis Demetrius Alvanis performs the Hungarian Dances on the last two discs, each of which concludes with 'miscellaneous pieces', mopping up everything else that doesn't fit into other categories. He is a lively pianist, and has the right temperament for the Dances. He really relishes those surprise tempo jumps and sudden hikes in dynamics with which Brahms punctuates the works. The first of the two Alvanis discs is the only one of the set to have been licensed from another label. It was recorded in 1994 and originally released on Meridian. The recording venue was the St. Edward the Confessor's Church, Mottingham, a space that is far too resonant for piano music. The resulting ambience means that the music loses some of its intimacy, although the clarity and definition of the piano sound is not too badly affected.

In terms of recording quality, this disc is definitely the exception, as all the others sound very good indeed. At least four of the other discs use a Steinway D, which has plenty of punch when needed and gives excellent sustaining sonorities.

A quick browse around the internet reveals that there are plenty of other boxed sets of Brahms' complete piano works out there, and all the others are – predictably - the work of a single pianist. Gerhard Oppitz of RCA-BMG manages the cycle in five discs, so if shelf space is an issue he has the clear lead. Brilliant are not in the habit of charging more for the number of discs in a set so their more generous distribution across eight discs shouldn't worry prospective buyers too much. There is also Julius Katchen on Decca and Idil Biret on Naxos. No doubt Brilliant will undercut even that last contender, making them the cheapest, and probably by a considerably margin. With that in mind, I'd recommend this set, if nothing else as a reference against which to judge the more esoteric and subjective readings of Brahms out there. The flamboyant virtuoso approach has its place, but to my ear, this music responds just as well to the more measured and diligent readings of these five pianists.

Gavin Dixon

Full track listing
CD 1 (Kamerhan Turan)
Piano Sonata No. 1 in C maj., Op. 1 (1852-53)
Scherzo for Piano in E-flat min., Op. 4

CD 2 (Alan Weiss)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp min., Op. 2
1. Allegro ma non troppo, ma energico [06:13]
2. Andante con espressione [05:12]
3. Scherzo, allegro [03:56]
4. Finale: Introduzione - allegro non troppo e rubato [11:11]
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F min., Op. 5
5. Allegro maestoso [09:52]
6. Andante espressivo [11:00]
7. Scherzo, allegro energico [04:45]
8. Intermezzo, andante molto [03:01]
9. Finale, allegro moderato ma rubato [08:04]

CD 3 (Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy)
Variations on a Theme of Paganini in A min. Studies, Op. 35, Book I (1862-63)
1. Thema’ non troppo presto [00:29]
2. Var I [00:26]
3. Var II [00:30]
4. Var III [00:30]
5. Var IV [01:13]
6. Var V: Espressivo/molto leggiero [00:45]
7. Var VI: Molto leggiero [00:29]
8. Var VII [00:27]
9. Var VIII: Staccato [00:30]
10. Var IX: Legato [00:28]
11. Var X: Sotto voce [01:19]
12. Var XI: Andante, molto legato e dolce, espressivo [01:45]
13. Var XII: Molto dolce [01:12]
14. Var XIII: Vivace e scherzando [00:34]
15. Var XIV: Allegro [02:17]
Variations on a Theme of Paganini in A min. Studies, Op. 35, Book II (1862-63)
16. Thema’ non troppo presto [00:30]
17. Var I [00:55]
18. Var II [00:40]
19. Var III: Leggiero, espressivo [00:35]
20. Var IV: Poco allegretto, con grazia [00:58]
21. Var V: Dolce [00:27]
22. Var VI: Poco più vivace, leggiero [00:24]
23. Var VII: Leggiero e ben marcato [00:23]
24. Var VIII: Allegro, leggiero, quasi pizzicato [00:38]
25. Var IX [00:58]
26. Var X: Feroce, energico [01:04]
27. Var XI: Vivace, non legato e scherzando [00:29]
28. Var XII: Un poco andante, dolce espressivo [01:23]
29. Var XIII: Un poco più andante, poco espressivo [01:08]
30. Var XIV: Presto, ma non troppo, scherzando [01:37]
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel in B-flat maj., Op. 24 (1861)
31. Aria: Rhythmisch, mit humor [00:53]
32. Var I: L'istesso tempo [00:47]
33. Var II: Con espressione [00:41]
34. Var III: Grazioso [00:49]
35. Var IV: Risoluto, con fuoco, staccato [00:53]
36. Var V: Affetuoso, espressivo [01:08]
37. Var VI: Sordo, e legato [00:57]
38. Var VII: Con vivacita [00:39]
39. Var VIII: Martellato/distinto, non legato [00:40]
40. Var IX: Poco sostenuto, legato [01:27]
41. Var X: Energico [00:33]
42. Var XI: Lusingando, con tenerezza, dolce, legato [00:45]
43. Var XII: L'istesso tempo, semplice, soave, legato [00:49]
44. Var XIII: Largamente, ma non più, espressivo [01:35]
45. Var XIV: Vivace, sciolto [00:38]
46. Var XV: L'istesso tempo [00:43]
47. Var XVI: Scherzando [00:31]
48. Var XVII: Più mosso, semplice [00:39]
49. Var XVIII: Grazioso [00:41]
50. Var XIX: Leggiero e vivace, alla Siciliana [01:03]
51. Var XX: Andante espressivo, legato [00:58]
52. Var XXI: Allegretto vivace, dolce/leggiero [00:46]
53. Var XXII: Alla musette [01:09]
54. Var XXIII: Vivace, sospetto, vivace e staccato [00:34]
55. Var XXIV: L'istesso tempo, tumultuoso, feroce [00:35]
56. Var XXIV: [00:44]
57. Fuga: Allegro sostenuto e fermo [05:19]

CD 4 (Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy)
Variations on an Original Theme in D maj., Op. 21, No. 1 (1856-57)
1. Thema: Poco larghetto, poco forte, molto espressivo, e legato [01:26]
2. Var I: Molto piano e legato [01:24]
3. Var II: Più moto, espressivo [00:56]
4. Var III: Dolce [01:15]
5. Var IV: [Poco Più Lento] Dolce [01:21]
6. Var V [01:36]
7. Var VI: Più moto, espressivo, legato [00:52]
8. Var VII: Andante con moto, dolce [01:48]
9. Var VIII: Allegro non troppo [01:11]
10. Var IX [01:10]
11. Var X: Espressivo agitato [00:56]
12. Var XI: Tempo di Tema, poco più lento, dolce [04:05]
Variations on a Hungarian Song in D maj., Op. 21, No. 2 (? 1853-54)
13. Allegro [00:15]
14. Var I [00:15]
15. Var II [00:16]
16. Var III [00:15]
17. Var IV [00:16]
18. Var V: Con espressione [00:20]
19. Var VI [00:29]
20. Var VII: Poco più lento, dolce espressivo/quasi pizzicato [00:30]
21. Var VIII: [Ancora un poco più lento] espressivo, dolce [00:32]
22. Var IX: Dolce [00:18]
23. Var X: Legato, dolce [00:16]
24. Var XI: Dolce [00:14]
25. Var XII: Espressivo [00:15]
26. Var XIII: Con forza, allegro (il doppio movimento), tempo I più animato [02:53]
Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann in F-sharp min., Op. 9 (1854)
27. Thema: Ziemlich langsam [01:10]
28. Var I 01:15
29. Var II: Poco più moto, espressivo/staccato e leggiero [00:31]
30. Var III: Tempo di tema [01:03]
31. Var IV: Poco più moto, espressivo/leggiero [00:51]
32. Var V: Allegro capriccioso [00:53]
33. Var VI: Allegro [00:50]
34. Var VII: Andante [01:01]
35. Var VIII: Andante (non troppo lento), espressivo [01:44]
36. Var IX: Schnell [00:35]
37. Var X: Poco adagio, espressivo dolce [02:15]
38. Var XI: Un poco più animato, sempre pianissimo dolcissimo [00:58]
39. Var XII: Allegretto, poco scherzando, staccato e leggiero [00:45]
40. Var XIII: Non troppo presto, molto leggiero [00:26]
41. Var XIV: Andante, expressivo/staccato e leggiero [01:2]
42. Var XV: Poco adagio, espressivo [01:37]
43. Var XVI: Adagio [01:48]

CD 5 (Håkon Austbø)
Ballades, Op. 10
1. No. 1 in D min.: Andante “Edward” [03:47]
2. No. 2 in D maj.: Andante [05:37]
3. No. 3 in B min.: Intermezzo, allegro [03:51]
4. No. 4 in B maj.: Andante con moto [07:51]
Rhapsodies, Op. 79
5. No. 1 in B min.: Agitato [09:29]
6. No. 2 in G min.: Molto passionato [06:04]
Klavierstücke, Op. 76
7. Capriccio in F-sharp min.: Un poco agitato [03:18]
8. Capriccio in B min.: Allegretto non troppo [03:41]
9. Intermezzo in A-flat maj.: Grazioso [02:17]
10. Intermezzo in B-flat maj.: Allegretto grazioso [02:20]
11. Capriccio in C-sharp min.: Agitato, ma non troppo presto [03:12]
12. Intermezzo in A maj.: Andante con moto [04:08]
13. Intermezzo in A min.: Moderato semplice [03:12]
14. Capriccio in C maj.: Grazioso ed un poco vivace [03:21]

CD 6 (Håkon Austbø)
Fantasien, Op. 116
1. Capriccio in D min.: Presto energico [02:26]
2. Intermezzo in A min.: Andante [03:43]
3. Capriccio in G min.: Allegro passionate [03:11]
4. Intermezzo in E maj.: Adagio [04:45]
5. Intermezzo in E min.: Andante con grazia ed intimissimo sentimento [03:01]
6. Intermezzo in E maj.: Andantino teneramente [03:07]
7. Capriccio in D min.: Allegro agitato [02:10]
Intermezzi, Op. 117
8. No. 1 In E Flat Major: Andante Moderato 05:07
9. No. 2 In B Flat Minor: Andante Non Troppo 04:44
10. No. 3 In C Sharp Minor: Andante Con Moto 06:22
Klavierstücke, Op. 118
11. Intermezzo in A min.: Allegro non assai [02:22]
12. Intermezzo in A maj.r: Andante teneramente [05:56]
13. Ballade in G min.: Allegro energico [03:42]
14. Intermezzo in F min.: Allegretto un poco agitato [02:40]
15. Romanze in F maj.: Andante [03:33]
16. Intermezzo in E-flat min.: Andante, largo e mesto [05:20]
Klavierstücke, Op. 119
17. Intermezzo in B min.: Adagio [03:29]
18. Intermezzo in E min.: Andantino un poco agitato [04:45]
19. Intermezzo in C maj.: Grazioso e giocoso [01:39]
20. Rhapsodie in E-flat maj.: Allegro risoluto [04:47]

CD 7 (Louis Demetrius Alvanis)
Hungarian Dances for Piano Solo
1. No. 1 in G min. [03:22]
2. No. 2 in D min. [03:38]
3. No. 3 in F maj. [02:46]
4. No. 4 in F-sharp min. [05:26]
5. No. 5 in F-sharp min. [02:35]
6. No. 6 in D-flat maj. [03:42]
7. No. 7 in F maj. [01:52]
8. No. 8 in A min. [02:51]
9. No. 9 in E min. [02:10]
10. No. 10 in E maj. [02:16]
11. Piano Studies - After a Study by Chopin (Op. 25, No. 2 in F min.) [02:41]
12. Piano Studies - After a Rondo by Von Weber (Finale of Piano Sonata in C maj.) [04:28]
13. Piano Studies - After a Presto by J. S. Bach, First Version (Finale of Solo Violin Sonata, BWV 1001) [01:51]
14. Piano Studies - After a Presto By J. S. Bach, Second Version (Finale of Solo Violin Sonata, BWV 1001) [01:56]
15. Piano Studies - After Chaconne By J. S. Bach, for the Left Hand (From Violin Partita No. 2 in D min., BWV 1016) [06:30]

CD 8 (Louis Demetrius Alvanis)
Hungarian Dances for Piano Solo
1.
No. 11 in D min. [03:58]
2. No. 12 in D min. [02:43]
3. No. 13 in D maj. [02:02]
4. No. 14 in D min. [02:47]
5. No. 15 in B-flat maj. [03:11]
6. No. 16 in F min. [03:21]
7. No. 17 in F-sharp min. [04:15]
8. No. 18 in D maj. [01:53]
9. No. 19 in B min. [02:05]
10. No. 20 in E min. [03:02]
11. No. 21 in E min. [01:51]
12. Sarabande No. 1 in A min. [03:40]
13. Sarabande No. 2 in B min. [04:42]
14. Gavotte No. 1 in A min. [01:51]
15. Gavotte No. 2 in A maj. [04:08]
16. Gigue No. 1 in A min. [02:32]
17. Gigue No. 2 in B min. [02:15]
18. Transcription of a Gavotte by Gluck [04:04]
19. Study after an Impromptu by Schubert, Op. 90, No. 2 [04:45]
20. Theme & Variations in D min. (Arrangement of Slow Movement from String Sextet, Op. 18) [13:35]

 
 


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