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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
The Late Piano Works
7 Fantasien Op 116 (1892) [22:56]
3 Intermezzi Op 117 (1892) [15:47]
6 Klavierstücke Op 118 (1893) [24:59]
4 Klavierstücke Op 119 (1893) [15:29]
Yunus Kaya (piano)
rec. 2020, Hohenems, Markus-Sittikus-Saal, Schubertiade Salzburg

This superb recital of late Brahms, is, as far as I can ascertain, the first solo CD by Yunus Kaya. As the notes are predominantly in German I gained biographical information from ARS Artists’ page. There is a certain amount of inevitable hyperbole but the basics are that he was born 1986 in Hohenems, Austria, and is a bilingual pianist with Turkish roots. He has performed internationally in numerous European concert series such as the Salzburger Kammermusikfestival, International Bodensee Festival and Chopin-Gesellschaft Vorarlberg. As a soloist he has worked with the Russian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra “Klassika”, Symphony Orchestra Vorarlberg and the Jalas Chamber Orchestra (Finland). Kaya spans music styles from baroque to contemporary and as well as solo work is a chamber musician. In 2008 he was awarded the Bösendorfer Scholarship, and in 2012 with his Trio Imago Salzburg, he received a grant from “Live Music Now”, an organisation founded by Yehudi Menuhin. He says of the present recording of Brahms’ works from his golden Indian Summer, “I wanted to make these two aspects tangible: the loneliness and introversion on the one hand and the openness to the spontaneous in sound and on the other hand, tempo shaping. No feeling, no pain can be felt and described in the same way every day. With this in mind, I have sought the balance between faithfulness to the musical text and the artist’s artistic freedom”. I’m not sure that this was entirely encouraging, prior to listening to works, which I chiefly know through Clifford Curzon and Wilhelm Kempff; they made the music do the talking. I’m delighted to say, that from the opening bars, in splendid sound, I knew that I was in for a marvellous time, as Kaya traversed these very special compositions.

My first encounter with Brahms, as it may be for many, was his lullaby, "Wiegenlied" ("Cradle Song"), Op 49 No 4, which I heard when about 12, when one my cousins was very young. When I was 19, having purchased my first record player, I was given a famous recording of the violin concerto by David Oistrakh which I now have on DG originals. In due course along came Isaac Stern and Ginette Neveu, the latter a reading to which I’ve never become attuned. Symphonies followed, especially No 4 - which I don’t see as tragic - in the hands of Toscanini, Kempe, Karajan and Walter. For MusicWeb International I have happily reviewed a lot of excellent Brahms including Wilhelm Furtwängler (review), Edward Gardner (review), Raphael Wallfisch and John York (review) and one volume of the excellent Eric Le Sage series (review); in the latter two cases there are more to follow. You may truly say “Je t’aime Brahms”.

The late works we hear on a single CD, as opposed to the 2CDs from the otherwise excellent Nicholas Angelich on Virgin (review). Fortunately, a couple of years ago I bought Angelich’s complete Brahms, now on Erato in a 10 CD bargain set; the price of a steak and chips. For the piano, I started, perhaps inevitably, with the concertos, Emil Gilels (DG), Claudio Arrau and later a family favourite, Sir Clifford Curzon who recorded the turbulent First Piano Concerto three times. I’m looking forward to hearing the new set by the wonderful András Schiff (ECM), given ‘recommended’ status by Brian Wilson (review). The works on the present CD are clearly more introverted and reflective: Brahms was only around 60 but he looked considerably older and would die in 1897, aged 64. Without being pretentious, I feel that these works, plus the clarinet pieces, have an elegiac quality and are very personal. That is one reason for their appeal.

Whilst the succinct but sufficient notes on the works, in translation, by Dr Anselm Hartmann are black on white, most of the notes are predominantly in German. The English comments by Yunus Kaya are white on a black background, which is not easy to read. Kaya writes “It is important to me that my interpretation seems spontaneous, almost improvised.” Right from the first of the 7 Fantasien, Op 116, Capriccio Presto energico, the feeling of spontaneity rings through in every note and made me appreciate more than before, Brahms’ genius. That is what an excellent performer achieves, it’s Brahms’ Brahms, which is as it should be. Kaya states, in conclusion: “No sentiment or sorrow can be perceived or described in the same way every day”; a Furtwängler approach. He “has tried to strike a balance between faithfulness to the score and artistic expression”; I’d say he’s certainly achieved this aim.

A much played 2 CD set from Emil Gilels on DG has him accompanied in the piano concertos by the humane Eugen Jochum. In its “Originals” reissue, it has the Op 116 as a ‘filler’. Here Kaya produces a performance to be spoken of in the same exalted breath.

Three Intermezzi, Op 117 begin with my favourite piano piece by Brahms: Andante moderato. I first heard it performed by Clifford Curzon; it moved me then and does so now. As Jonathan Woolf wrote in appraising a smaller collection of Curzon (Decca) than I have the fortune to own (his complete recordings): “The E flat major Intermezzo is beautifully done” (review). All three pieces are ravishingly played and Kaya’s readings are difficult to over-praise. The music is never languid; there is always a forward momentum. And so, effortlessly, Kaya goes onto the 6 Klavierstücke, Op 118, starting with the impassioned Intermezzo. These pieces were dedicated, as were so many of Brahms’ works, to Clara Schumann. They are more inward and private-looking but throughout they illustrate Brahms’ prowess as a pianist. There are “cylinders” of Brahms playing some of the Hungarian Dances with the dedicatee of his Violin Concerto, Joachim from 1889. I’d give a lot to hear him play the Intermezzi: very intimate works.

Trying to avoid extending this review beyond acceptable lengths, I will briefly mention the 4 Klavierstücke, Op 119 which are as fine as anything that has come before. The opening Intermezzo is beautifully personal in the way it communicates to the listener. Brahms was certainly aware of his mortality, he was only 60 but that was a much greater age some 130 years ago. The pieces continue with that rhythmic pulse which reminds me of the waltzes, memorably performed by Dinu Lipatti and Nadia Boulanger. How could one not be moved by the final section of No 2? The third is another favourite and is more jovial than some, again splendidly played. There is real tangibility in the sound of the piano, not an easy instrument to record and reproduce. The fourth Rhapsodie is probably better known and can be a stand-alone piece or encore. There’s a defiance in the composition as if Brahms will not let infirmity quench his spirit. As often, with a special disc, there’s a slight feeling of regret, as inevitably it maybe some time before I have the opportunity to play it again.

This is an excellent disc of life-affirming late Brahms. After playing various parts, several times, I played the whole disc through in one go, with brief pauses between the opus numbered sets. Clearly, Brahms wouldn’t have expected one to do this, and as the CD is nearly 80 minutes long, I would suggest playing one set at a time and drinking in the various moods and melodies. As a first solo recital, this is remarkable. I would love to hear more from Yunus Kaya and would go a long way, COVID permitting, to hear him in concert. He has reinforced Brahms’ genius as a composer, especially on his preferred instrument.

David R Dunsmore

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