Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op.5 (1853) [38:23]
Three Intermezzi, Op.117 (1892) [14:53]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Piano Sonata Op.1 (1908/1909, rev. 1925) [12:33]
Vincent Larderet (piano)
rec. 4-6 July 2016, Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal

Vincent Larderet’s accompanying booklet essay "Tradition and Transition" discusses the works he has chosen, placing them in a historical context, and providing an interesting link between the two sonatas. With the Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Brahms achieved the pinnacle of the great Romantic Sonata tradition, and Berg took up the mantle of the sonata form with his Op. 1. Another common denominator is that both are the product of youth: Berg was 23, Brahms 20. Larderet has lived with these works since his adolescence, the Berg being an inspiration for his own Sonatine Op. 1. The Brahms Sonata was the last piece he studied with Bruno-Leonardo Gelber at the Lübeck Academy of Music.

Brahms’ five-movement Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor draws on all the resources, pushing the pianist’s technique to the limit. Larderet plays with commanding virtuosity, purposeful direction and shows a real empathy for this music. The opening movement is exciting, dramatic and invested with grandeur, with the big romantic gestures having power and energy. The slow movement which follows overflows with beguiling lyricism and Larderet’s sensitive pedalling confers a myriad colours and tonal shadings. The Scherzo is rhythmically adept and never sags. However, it is the ending of the finale which secures the success of this performance. It has to be the most passionate and thrilling race to the finish I have ever heard.

Dating from 1892, these ‘three lullabies to my sorrows’, as Brahms described his Op. 117 Intermezzi, are characterized by intimacy and introspection. Larderet’s evocation of their autumnal qualities is compelling. There’s some delicate voicing of chords and pointing of melody in No. 1, whilst in No. 2 the falling arpeggios melt away with ardent lyricism. In the third of the set he captures the more dark and plaintive character of the music.

Berg was a composition student of Schoenberg when he wrote his Op. 1. It was completed in 1909 and premiered in Vienna in April 1911. He had initially wanted to add further movements, but somehow lacked inspiration. His teacher must have been encouraging when he told him that he "had said everything there was to say". The result was a single movement sonata that embraces the ‘developing variation’ principle that Schoenberg promoted. Here, a simple musical motif is developed by variation, providing a unifying element throughout. Despite this, the basic structure of a traditional sonata-form with exposition, development and recapitulation is maintained. Larderet has a clear vision in his mind of the structure, architecture and direction of the piece. He contours its somewhat tortuous narrative, instinctively traversing the work’s ebb and flow, and responding intuitively to the subtleties and ambiguities of Berg’s writing. I’m drawn to the way he invests the more reflective moments with poetic expression. Phrasing is subtly nuanced and climaxes are well judged and make their mark. It’s a performance that sets the bar high, and stands side by side with two of my favourites by Mitsuko Uchida and Glenn Gould.

Last year I reviewed the pianist’s recording of Ravel and Florent Schmitt and commented on the impressive sound quality achieved by the ARS Produktion engineers. They have come up with the goods yet again. Larderet has the advantage of a warmly voiced piano, with a rich bloom to the tone. The acoustic of the Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal couldn’t really be bettered, allowing the music to emerge with detail and clarity.

This is certainly a disc that I will be returning to.

Stephen Greenbank

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