As complete sets of Brahms piano music go, it's hard to get more complete than this set by Martin Jones on Nimbus. Jones includes not only the canonical two Rhapsodies, three Sonatas, four Ballades, six sets of variations, ten Hungarian Dances, sixteen Waltzes and twenty-eight short piano pieces, but also the almost forgotten sarabandes, gigues, gavottes, studies, canons and transcriptions. Listeners looking for the most complete Brahms available need look no further. Listeners who do look no further, however, will have to settle for good but by no means great performances. Jones has a big tone coupled to an impressive technique and many of his performances are quite fine. But too often here he seems to be merely going through the motions, turning in accomplished but unexciting sometimes even dutiful performances. When extroverted virtuosity is called for in the Paganini Variations, Jones is almost but not altogether on top of the notes. When introverted soulfulness is called for in the late Intermezzos, Jones is nearly but not entirely inside the music. When textural clarity is called for in the Handel Variations and Fugue, Jones is clear but not absolutely lucid. And when heart-breaking tragedy is called for in the Ballades, Jones can play the notes but their meaning seems beyond him. Everyone who loves Brahms solo piano music will have to hear this set for its completeness -- after all, how many other recordings of Brahms' transcription of Gluck's Gavotte are there? -- but anyone who loves Brahms solo piano music will also have to hear other recordings of the major works in order to appreciate their true greatness.
Nimbus' early digital sound is big but distant and slightly hooded.