Brahms: Piano Sonata No 3 in F minor, Op 5; 12 Piano Pieces from Opp 39, 76 and 116-119

Reviewed on Wed 13 Sep, 2017

Has Op 76 No 4 ever cast a more warming sunbeam on disc or the first of the Op 116 pieces sounded more uncomfortably belligerent?

The beauty of Nelson Freire’s approach to Brahms, aside from its musical finesse and virtuosity, is in the way it marks a contrast between the assertive young lion of the expansive F minor Sonata and the ruminative but passionate introvert of the more concise later pieces. The Sonata’s majestic opening Allegro parades a range of colours that verges on sounding orchestral; the wistful Andante is given a reading that is at once limpid and quietly spontaneous; the Scherzo becomes a crazed waltz, the sort that an excited lover might dare to dance in private; and the finale’s shimmering second set resembles in its expressive effect one of Brahms’s adorable Lieder. And the shorter pieces? Has Op 76 No 4 ever cast a more warming sunbeam on disc or the first of the Op 116 pieces sounded more uncomfortably belligerent? The questioning cadences of Op 116 No 4 and the gently cosseting B flat minor Intermezzo from Op 117 are also deeply affecting. Freire makes assertive drama of the Ballade from Op 118, and his approach to the Op 119 pieces honours four very different worlds, from the loneliness of the first Intermezzo to the playfulness of the third (echoes there of Clifford Curzon). Altogether a superb programme, beautifully recorded.
–Rob Cowan