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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 [47:43]
Four Pieces for Piano, Op.119 [14:24]
Joseph Moog (piano)
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie/Nicholas Milton
rec. 2018-19, SWR Studio Kaiserslautern, Germany
ONYX 4214 [62:12]

It was back in 2018 that I was fortunate enough to review Joseph Moog’s recording of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto. I was greatly impressed, commenting that I could “certainly buy into Moog’s vision”, and at the end of the review expressed a wish that he would “direct his attentions to the First Concerto in the not-too-distant future”. Well, I’m pleased to welcome it. Once again the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie under the direction of Nicholas Milton offer fine, inspirational support. The pianist has opted for the Four Late Pieces, Op. 119 as an attractive and convenient coupling.

The thunderous timpani make a dramatic impact in the launch of the first movement of the Concerto. Milton is truly convincing in the weight and theatrical grandeur he brings to the opening tutti. The overall impression is austere and craggy. Moog takes up the reins with an entrance characterized by refinement and warmth. Everything unfolds so naturally, and rubato is, at all times, tasteful and subtly applied, with the big climaxes instinctively navigated. The Adagio is one of deeply-shadowed introspection. Milton achieves miracles pointing up the bassoon and horn passages. The muted strings convey peace and calm, gently supporting Moog’s pellucid tone. The exuberant finale is delivered with a frisson of excitement, bite, energy and excitement. The ending is both stirring and explosive.

Whereas the Concerto is an early work from 1858, the Four Pieces for Piano Op. 119 date from 1893 , and were the composer’s last composition for solo piano. These introspective, autumnal pieces were penned in the Austrian resort Bad Ischl, where Brahms spent his summers. A dreamy, soporific haze envelops Moog’s opening Intermezzo, which contrasts with moments of more ardent intensity. The second Intermezzo is whimsical and capricious. The middle section benefits from the pianist’s elegant phrasing. I’d have preferred the staccato a little more light and mercurial in the third piece, though. The final Rhapsody marked Allegro risoluto is writ large on the grand scale, and provides a fitting closure to the cycle. Moog’s approach to these pieces is both probing and penetrating, and I sincerely hope he goes on to record more of these pieces in the future.

These captivating performances are beautifully played and recorded, and this release will be one I’ll enthusiastically be returning to in the future.

Stephen Greenbank

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