Barry Douglas plays Brahms at Wigmore Hall

3 Intermezzos, Op.117
Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor, Op.5

Barry Douglas (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 10 December, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Barry Douglas. Photograph: www.barry-douglas.comBarry Douglas began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert with a performance of Brahms’s Three Intermezzos, collected under Opus 117, which caught the timeless qualities of this wonderful music. The first in particular, a well-known piece inspired by the Scottish lullaby ‘Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament’, was notable for its quiet authority, Douglas allowing the music plenty of expressive space. This was a feature of the other two pieces, too though the final one, in C sharp minor, was notably more brooding in the bare octaves of its outer sections, despite segueing nicely into a central episode of brief consolation.

Douglas, who is in the process of recording Brahms’s complete solo piano works for Chandos, then switched to the other end of the composer’s output. The three piano sonatas are substantial early works, and the F minor, in five movements, was published when Brahms was twenty years old. It has a clear debt to Beethoven in both form and melodic content. Douglas used commendable restraint at the opening, which is often taken as a green light for pianists to show strength and volume, and he built more gradually into the big structure that is the first movement. This was an effective tactic, the architecture and drama revealed as the piece progressed.

In both slow movements, placed respectively second and fourth, Douglas took time out for thought, which was particularly effective. The Scherzo bisecting them was powerfully wrought. The finale took Brahms’s tempo marking of Allegro moderato ma rubato at face value, but was sensitive in its tempo variations, even when the pauses in the main theme were more prolonged. As the music progressed to its major-key conclusion Douglas harnessed considerable power into the right-hand octaves, just about holding back from taking the music too quickly as it sped towards the close. When this arrived, the final cadence was emphatic beyond question.

As an encore Douglas chose another Brahms Intermezzo, giving a beautifully paced performance of the one in E major, the fourth item of Opus 116.

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