Garrick Ohlsson

Brahms: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2; Rhapsodies Op. 79

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Brahms: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2; Rhapsodies Op. 79 Review

by James Manheim

The Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1, and Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 2, of Johannes Brahms are quintessentially early works, brimming over with influences from other composers. These certainly include Robert Schumann, but also some that are not so expected, such as Liszt in the second sonata, one of the most purely virtuosic pieces Brahms ever wrote. The vast canvases of late Beethoven, especially the Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 ("Hammerklavier"), also shaped Brahms' thinking in the substantial half-hour first sonata. These pieces, from the early 1850s, don't quite have the true Brahms voice, but they're certainly milestones in his development. What they need is performances that reveal their mix of inquisitiveness and brashness, and that's just what they get here from pianist Garrick Ohlsson, who does not seem to have lost even a step. Technical fireworks aside, he offers a deeply moody slow movement in the first sonata, said to be based on a German folk song and showing Brahms flirting with pure Romanticism. Ohlsson's characteristic style, with ringing high notes in the top range of his Steinway, is fully on display here, and even listeners who don't always appreciate that may find it uniquely well matched to this music. This pianist's new investigations of Brahms in his old age are proving well worth listeners' attention.

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