Following on a well-received Brahms album featuring the Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, comes another Brahms release from British pianist Jonathan Plowright with many of the same strengths. Some buyers may pick the earlier release simply because the Piano Sonata No. 3 is generally held to be a stronger work by the young Brahms than the Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 2, and Scherzo in E flat minor, Op. 4, that frame the program here. But they would be missing not only strong performances of these comparatively rare pieces, but also extraordinary readings of the Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21/1, and the late, luminously lyrical and ineffably sad Three Intermezzi, Op. 117. Plowright's style is delicate, sensitive, and extremely precise, able to express fine details and shades. The Variations are one of those works that show why the composers of the Second Viennese School so admired the "conservative" Brahms. Without departing much from the harmonic structure of his original theme, Brahms pursues awesomely subtle details of register, melodic shape, and ornament, all of them resolving into a transcendent plane that brings to mind late Beethoven. Plowright's style is beautifully suited to this strain of Brahms' compositional thinking, and the Three Intermezzi are hardly less effective; they'll make listeners want to hear an album of all late Brahms from this pianist. BIS provides remarkably clear sound from that venue beloved of British engineers, Suffolk's Potton Hall. The result is an extremely appealing release for those who love Brahms.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 2|
|Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21/1|
|Three Intermezzi, Op. 117|