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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Seven Fantasias, Op.116 (1892) [19:42]
Three Intermezzi, Op.117 (1892) [13:49]
Six Piano Pieces, Op.118 (1892) [20:41]
Four Piano Pieces, Op.119 (1892-93) [14:02]
Ariel Halevy (piano)
rec. no details supplied
ROMÉO RECORDS 7312 [68:23]

Unusually, there seem to be no recording details included in this release – I’ve searched but failed to find them. I have to assume that the Brahms pieces were recorded fairly recently, as Ariel Halevy is still young – he was born in 1976 – and almost certainly after the series of composer-themed recitals he gave between 2008 and 2010.

That very minor mystery to one side, he has chosen to programme Brahms’ late solo works as a sequence in opus number, thus forming a solid chronological block. Unimpeachable logic, certainly. He has also written the insightful and extensive notes, which are strongly informed by his specific insights, not least into harmonic matters. He clearly has a strong affinity with these works and is often an assured guide but sometimes fails fully to convey the expressive qualities of the music. It’s good that he doesn’t seek to replicate Wilhelm Kempff’s fatally leaden approach to the first Capriccio of the Op.116 set but instead adopts an approach nearer to that of the tensile strength of the pre-war Wilhelm Backhaus. And yet the second Capriccio sounds a bit doughty – the phrasing and articulation lacking grandeur, and the second Intermezzo’s pushing and pulling sounds a touch effortful.

These rubati, whilst not lacking expressive warmth, sound increasingly predictable as the recital develops, the second Intermezzo of the Op.118 set being a case in point. And the playing of the Romanze from this set has a literal, rather objective cast to it, which lacks inwardness and also a sense of the music’s quasi-improvisatory quality. For all his clarity Halevy sounds rather spick and span. The Op.117 set is perhaps the best interpreted of the four sets – chordally well weighted, well balanced. Whilst he could be said to harden his tone too much in the first of the Op.119 set he takes good tempi for the four, in the main, and plays the Rhapsody without any forcing of the tone. Though even here there’s something just a little uninvolving, a little cramped about his playing.

There’s clearly something to like about Halevy’s approach to Brahms in this reasonably recorded disc but I think a more successful recital would have been to co-opt one of the sonatas, or to have contextualised these pieces in some way. As it is there is a lot of uneven playing here.

Jonathan Woolf



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