By the early 1890s, Johannes Brahms began thinking that his career was approaching its end, perhaps because of his growing awareness of his mortality, due to the deaths of several close friends. In spite of that, encouragement from Brahms' publisher Fritz Simrock and a renewed burst of creativity brought about the major works of his final years, which included chamber pieces for clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld; a collection of arrangements of German Folk Songs; the Four Serious Songs; the 11 Chorale Preludes; and the piano pieces published as the Fantasias, Op. 116, the Intermezzos, Op. 117, the Clavierstücke, Op. 118, and the Clavierstücke, Op. 119. This group of 20 keyboard pieces collectively represent the autumnal and sometimes gloomy moods that dominated Brahms' thoughts in his last decade, and have even retroactively colored the overall character his music, suggesting a nostalgic attitude in his work as a whole. Yet there is a balance between melancholy and exuberance in Brahms, and while much can be made of the sorrowful events in his life that influenced him, particularly in the Intermezzos, Op. 117 (which he considered to be lullabies for his sorrows), expressions in the late piano music are artfully conceived and perhaps less a measure of Brahms' emotional state than of his genius. Stephen Hough has recorded Brahms' piano concertos, and some of the chamber works, but this 2019 Hyperion album is his first album since 2001 devoted to Brahms' solo piano works. At this stage of his career, Hough seems to have found the right approach to these character pieces, which can be just as fiery and passionate as they are sad or sentimental. However, just as important are their structures and formal designs, which show an active and lively imagination, especially in Brahms' use of chromatic harmony and his sometimes expansive treatment of the Romantic "miniature."
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Fantasias Op. 116|
|Intermezzos Op. 117|
|Clavierstücke Op. 118|
|Clavierstücke Op. 119|