The Chandos series of albums devoted to the solo piano music of Brahms, performed by Irish pianist Barry Douglas, here reaches its fourth volume. Douglas' readings have been substantial and generally well received, and this group of pieces has the virtues of their predecessors in the series. Most notable is the structure of the program: Douglas plays Brahms' smaller pieces not in their original opus-number groupings but as intermezzi between larger works. This makes sense on several different levels, one of them being that some of the short works here are indeed titled Intermezzi. It's not at all clear that Brahms intended groups of short pieces to be plowed through from beginning to end. And, most important of all, the recital concept of Brahms' time was oriented toward mixtures of weightier and smaller pieces. As in the earlier Douglas releases in the series, the pianist handles the mixture well. The overall dimensions are intimate, and the fervent, technically dense quality of the early Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1, comes through very nicely. Of course every note is in place in the two big variation sets that round out the program, but here some may miss a bit of hall-filling excitement. On balance this is a strong addition to Douglas' series, although maybe not the one to start with for those just buying one. Among its virtues is the sound engineering from the West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge; it's ideally suited to both performer and concept.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 1|
|Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann in F sharp minor, Op. 9|
|Variations on a Theme by Niccolò Paganini in A minor, Op. 35, Book 1|