Brahms late solo piano works
Brahms late piano works, starting with the op. 76, but especially his very late works op. 116 – 119 have always been close to my heart.
His piano sonatas, written when he was young, always touched me much less, although I recently found a version I quite liked.
Most of the op. 76 and 116-119 are simply called Klavierstücke, i.e. piano pieces. They are little collections of 4-8 pieces, typically called Cappriccio or Intermezzo, titles that don’t mean a lot.
To me, while I’m well aware that these are composed works, they always reminded me of improvisations. They lack the formal structure of a Beethoven piano sonata, and really just “live in the moment”, if a musical piece can do such a thing.
In a way, they remind me of Keith Jarrett’s solo concertos.
Arcadi Volodos himself calls these pieces “the Summit of piano music”. Brahms himself called op. 117 “lullabies for my sorrows”.
I’ve only written about one recording of these works yet, with Andreas Staier’s excellent recording of op. 118. This is because I was still looking for my favorite version. Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu were both good, I also liked the young French pianist Adam Laloum. But I knew you could do things differently.
Arcadi Volodos is a Russian pianist and virtuoso. He is pretty well known, but why he doesn’t have more of a reputation escapes me. Maybe it is because he doesn’t search the limelight, and just isn’t present enough in the media.
All of his previous albums were at least good, with some being exceptional, my favorite being Volodos in Vienna, a live recording, and Volodos plays Liszt.
Volodos Plays Brahms
When I heard this album for the first time, I was a bit puzzled. He really plays these works in a very individual, very different way.
I needed to listen to this at least 5 time before I made up my mind. But now I really just love it. His playing is extremely nuanced, never just showing off the great virtuoso he really is, and in a way, this is probably the recording that gets closest to my idea about playing them like Keith Jarrett plays live.
Nicely enough, the sound quality of this recording matches the musical quality. This was recorded at Berlin’s mythical Teldex Studio, with Volodos playing his personal favorite Steinway. The recording quality captures the intimate nature of these pieces very well.
My rating: 5 stars
Classica agrees by the way, and gives this album a Choc, their highest rating. The Guardian has quite a different opinion, giving it only 3 stars.
UPDATE May 21: In it’s June 2017 issue, Gramophone agrees and gives this album an Editor’s Choice, and Album of the Month.
Update June 6: Diapason d’or for from Diapason Magazine, and plenty of other good reviews of this album mentioned here.