Antony Gray

Brahms: Late Piano Works

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For Brahms devotees, there can never be enough recordings of his late piano works, the 20 pieces he published as his Opp. 116, 117, 118, and 119. From Gieseking and Kempff through Kovacevich and Badura-Skoda, their musical mastery, emotional intensity, and above all the melancholy quality dubbed "autumnal" by musicologists has elicited numerous first-rate recordings over the years. The performances by Australian pianist Alexander Gray on this two-disc set may not be in the same class as his more illustrious forbearers, but they are still quite fine. Gray is clearly technically and temperamentally a match for the music. None of its difficulties is beyond his abilities, not even the thunder-crashing heroics of the Rhapsody in E flat major, Op. 119. And none of the emotional intricacies is beyond his grasp, not even the bittersweet Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118. If one did not already know the earlier recordings, Gray's performances would surely be satisfying. But there are heights and depths here that the Australian pianist does not plumb and in comparison to his predecessors' recordings, his do not measure up. Recorded in clean but slightly recessed digital sound, this two-disc set will be fine for listeners who cannot get enough of Brahms' late piano music. But for those who are content with the recordings mentioned above, Gray's recording will likely prove unnecessary.

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