Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Waltzes Op.39 (1867) [18:32]
Fantasias Op.116 (1892) [23:26]
Handel Variations op.24 (1861) [25:43]
Misha Dichter (piano)
rec. 1-3 June 1993, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York City
NIMBUS NI 2578 [67:42]

I wasnít too complimentary about Misha and Cipa Dichterís Mozart release (see review), but intrigued to hear what Misha would do with Brahms, and do indeed find this recording somewhat more easy to love. As usual, the Waltzes Op.39 open somewhat brutally, but as things progress Dichter brings a fine sense of contrast to the lighter pieces, though there isnít much feel of the dance about them. These are concert pieces but my feeling is that there should always be at least a whiff, and preferably a warm blast of the dance hall behind them. Listening to Wilhelm Backhaus in 1939 on a Naxos Historical release 8.110766 always brings this to mind Ė keeping his feet moving along with the sweep of the music even at its most intimate. Dichterís playing is fine, but he does tend to pull things around quite a lot, so the waltz rhythm can become rather diluted. These pieces are also divided into two tracks Ė 1-8 and 9-16.

The Fantasias Op.116 are impressive, but Dichter can be a bit splashy when pulling out all the stops, though the rather close recording may be a factor in oneís impressions in this. The first Capriccio is a case in point. I still quite often return to the big Brahms box brought out by Nimbus on NI1788 and played by Martin Jones. Even with a more distant sounding piano there is a sense of greater nuance in the playing though itís not always perfect. Where Brahms is shovelling notes into the piano as if it were a full orchestra Jones can approach a recreation of that effect, rather than giving the impression of a piano straining at its limits. Misha Dichter is at his best in the more delicate moments, and his poetry in the E major Intermezzo Ė Adagio is sublime. The E minor Intermezzo is stealthy rather than really enigmatic, but is nicely shaped, and the following Andantino teneramente has restrained gravitas and lyricism which brings Dichter in a good 40 seconds or so longer than the more sweeping but also more uplifting Jones.

With the Handel Variations Iíve had the privilege of reviewing Murray Perahiaís recording for Sony Classical, which appeared not long after Garrick Ohlssonís complete set of the solo piano variations (see review). Dichter is good here, but doesnít beat this weight of competition. There is a combination of small technical elements which make me uncomfortable in this recording. There is a certain amount of placing accents in some variations Ė a micro-delay which highlights but also over-emphasises. As well as this there can be great deal of rhythmic pulling around, which makes Dichterís playing seem almost eccentric at times. There are plenty of fine moments as well and the final Fuga is a real tour de force. I donít want to be over-critical, but either way these are just two reasons which mean this wouldnít be my first choice.

This is a well recorded Brahms recital and by no means unattractive as a package, and I must say I have enjoyed hearing it. Fans of Misha Dichter will be glad to have this recording made available through the MusicMasters licensing deal with Nimbus. Iíve become a bit spoilt with brand new recordings these days, and do find myself seeking the closest path to the composer rather than having an interest in pianists in general, so I have to allow that tastes differ, and Dichterís personal view on Brahms may appeal more to you on a long-term basis. On the whole there are more pluses than minuses in this case, so enjoy!

Dominy Clements

More pluses than minuses.