Brahms: Ballades, Op 10; Fantasies, Op 116; Theme and Variations, Op 18b

Reviewed on Mon 24 Apr, 2017

I loved Denis Kozhukhin's gloriously trenchant, deeply personal interpretations of the late Fantasies, an illimitably nourishing sequence of seven pieces that run the whole gamut of emotions.

This Brahms anthology from the 30-year-old Russian virtuoso Denis Kozhukhin launches most propitiously with a memorably intuitive account of the Theme and Variations that the composer transcribed from his String Sextet of 1860 as a birthday gift for Clara Schumann. It's a wonderfully assured, limpid affair, no more so than in the magically hushed fifth variation (try from 6'42”). Next comes a comparably commanding traversal of the magnificent Op 10 Ballades, where Kozhukhin's golden-toned advocacy scales genuine heights in the by turns songful and stormy No 2 and glowingly intense No 4 (especially impressive in its rapt concentration). I love, too, his gloriously trenchant, deeply personal interpretations of the late Fantasies, an illimitably nourishing sequence of seven pieces that run the whole gamut of emotions, from stormy passion (Nos 1 and 7), big-hearted tenderness (No 3), nagging doubt (No 5) to profoundly poetic introspection (Nos 2, 4 and 6). Ideally captured by the Pentatone sound engineers in a sympathetic acoustic, this consistently rewarding SACD can be urgently recommended.
–Andrew Achenbach