0 of 5 stars

Klavierstücke, Opp.116-119

Nicholas Angelich (piano)

Recorded 15-19 August 2006 in MC2, Maison de la Culture, Grenoble

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2007
3 79302 2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 85 minutes

Brahms’s four sets of Piano Pieces collect, under four consecutive opus numbers, 20 miniatures that range in mood but tend to be contemplative in character. Movement-titles include ‘Capriccio’, ‘Intermezzo’, ‘Ballade’ and ‘Romanze’. The opening of the 7-piece Opus 116 group begins, contrarily, with overt demonstration (the marking is Presto energico). Nicholas Angelich immediately impresses with his technical command and poise and, later into this opening piece, a tonal light and shade and a variety of dynamics that is all to the good.

In the slower numbers, Angelich stresses the poetic intimacy of Brahms’s invention, and he once again bring poise and clarity, this time to the C minor Capriccio (No.3), and a heartfelt unfolding to the penultimate E major Intermezzo, ending the Opus 116 assortment with a rugged version of the D minor Capriccio. The recording is on the dry side, but it is certainly vivid and immediate.

Opus 116 occupies the first CD, a “bonus”, the entire collection just slightly too long for one disc. Opuses 117-119 (13 pieces in all) occupy, then, the second CD. The first number of Opus 117 is one of the best-known from these series of compositions and is played by Angelich with rapt sensitivity, all three pieces with a sense freedom without harming Brahms’s ingenuity of form. To the opening of Opus 118 Angelich brings grandeur, to its Intermezzo successor an inward eloquence that leaves no doubt as to Angelich’s sensibility, and how carefully modulated is his shaping of the penultimate Romanze. One is aware of the thought that has gone into Angelich’s playing, but he retains a sense of spontaneity that is from his heart to our hearts.

The four movements of Opus 119 begin with a chaste version of the opening Adagio (another Intermezzo: 14 of the 20 Pieces are so titled). The one in C, the third of this set, has long since been the preserve of Clifford Curzon (his Decca recording of it); suffice it to say that Angelich doesn’t quite match Curzon’s elfin directness, but he does bring a lightness of touch that is beguiling and comes close to emulating Curzon’s definitiveness – high praise.

This is a very impressive release – revealing Angelich as not only having a formidable technique but an ability to look beyond the notes and enquire into music’s expressive and intangible possibilities.

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