Brahms: Clavierstücke; Fantasias; Intermezzos

Garrick Ohlsson

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Brahms: Clavierstücke; Fantasias; Intermezzos Review

by James Manheim

The three sets of late piano works by Brahms were written in the early 1890s, after he had announced his retirement. They are fascinating works, not so much death-haunted as nostalgic, with bits of emotions floating across a remembered field of memory. The American pianist Garrick Ohlsson, a giant both artistically and physically (he is six feet, four inches tall) might not be the first pianist you would pick for these, but as it happens, he is ideal. They have an endlessly absorbing balance between improvisatory fantasy and dense motivic connection, and it will give endless pleasure to ponder what Brahms meant by calling the Op. 116 set Fantasias: none of the individual pieces bear that label. Ohlsson catches this balance beautifully and he has an uncanny feeling for the strangely shifting moods of these pieces. Sample the Intermezzo in A minor, Op. 118, No. 2, probably the best known of the works on the album, for an idea of how you'll take to Ohlsson's approach; there are as many ways to play this rather personal music as there are pianists. But his inclusion of the Scherzo in E flat minor, Op. 4 to bring down the curtain is inarguably inspired; in this program, Brahms looks back, so to speak, on his own music as well as his own emotions. Ohlsson's rendering will satisfy those hoping for one of his powerhouse performances. Hyperion's engineering, carried out at the perfectly appropriate Wyastone Estate Concert Hall, is ideal, and the entire effort is a must; even if you have a lot of recordings of these pieces, you'll find new things in this one.

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