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Brahms: Complete Piano Works

Brahms
Release Date: 11/09/2010 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 94091   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Kamerhan TuranKarin LechnerAlan WeissWolfram Schmitt-Leonardy,   ... 
Number of Discs: 8 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The piano music of Brahms is a bit of a mixed bag, in terms both of quality and style, so it seems reasonable to compile a complete set from recordings by a number of different pianists. In fact, there is more coherency here than the performers list might suggest. We have five pianists, from five different countries and yet, with the exception of one disc, all were recorded in the last ten years, and all were originally released by Brilliant Classics.

Most of Brahms' music for the piano responds well to level-headed
Read more interpretation without excesses of dynamics or tempo; if you don't agree try Glenn Gould. The success of these recordings is in no small part due to the measured and precise approach of each of the artists. There are plenty of performance directions in Brahms' scores, which you can ignore, but by presenting exactly what is on the page, while avoiding pedantry, these pianists present some enjoyable and wholly musical readings.

The early piano sonatas are performed by Kemerhan Turan and Alan Weiss, and both give impressively nuanced readings. There can be a danger with these works of excess, and the many densely voiced chords with loud dynamics can overpower everything that comes between. In fact both of these pianists manage to maintain a sense of intimacy in the quieter passages, while ensuring that the dramatic intensity of the outer movements is only ever relative.

The third and fourth discs are given over to the sets of Variations, on Paganini, Handel, Schumann, an original theme and a Hungarian song. They are not the composer's most inspired works, and two discs’ worth could get to be a drag. Fortunately, Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy is able to find the necessary variety and impetus to make it all tick along and maintain the interest. Perhaps pianists like this music better than I do, but I still think he drew the short straw on this project.

Håkon Austbø is the nearest thing to a household name among the pianists in the set, which may explain how he got to perform the more interesting music: the Ballades, Rhapsodies, and the famous sequence of late piano works Opp.116-19. He too avoids excesses of interpretation, although he shapes the phrases with a little more rubato than his colleagues. For me, these two discs are the highlight of the set, but I'll readily concede that that is as much to do with the repertoire as the performance.

Louis Demetrius Alvanis performs the Hungarian Dances on the last two discs, each of which concludes with 'miscellaneous pieces', mopping up everything else that doesn't fit into other categories. He is a lively pianist, and has the right temperament for the Dances. He really relishes those surprise tempo jumps and sudden hikes in dynamics with which Brahms punctuates the works. The first of the two Alvanis discs is the only one of the set to have been licensed from another label. It was recorded in 1994 and originally released on Meridian. The recording venue was the St. Edward the Confessor's Church, Mottingham, a space that is far too resonant for piano music. The resulting ambience means that the music loses some of its intimacy, although the clarity and definition of the piano sound is not too badly affected.

In terms of recording quality, this disc is definitely the exception, as all the others sound very good indeed. At least four of the other discs use a Steinway D, which has plenty of punch when needed and gives excellent sustaining sonorities.

A quick browse around the internet reveals that there are plenty of other boxed sets of Brahms' complete piano works out there, and all the others are – predictably - the work of a single pianist. Gerhard Oppitz of RCA-BMG manages the cycle in five discs, so if shelf space is an issue he has the clear lead. Brilliant are not in the habit of charging more for the number of discs in a set so their more generous distribution across eight discs shouldn't worry prospective buyers too much. There is also Julius Katchen on Decca and Idil Biret on Naxos. No doubt Brilliant will undercut even that last contender, making them the cheapest, and probably by a considerably margin. With that in mind, I'd recommend this set, if nothing else as a reference against which to judge the more esoteric and subjective readings of Brahms out there. The flamboyant virtuoso approach has its place, but to my ear, this music responds just as well to the more measured and diligent readings of these five pianists.

-- Gavin Dixon, MusicWeb International Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Sonata for Piano no 1 in C major, Op. 1 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Kamerhan Turan (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1852-1853; Germany 
2.
Scherzo for Piano in E flat minor, Op. 4 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Kamerhan Turan (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
3.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Karin Lechner (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
4.
Sonata for Piano no 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 2 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Alan Weiss (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1852; Germany 
5.
Sonata for Piano no 3 in F minor, Op. 5 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Alan Weiss (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1853; Germany 
6.
Variations (28) for Piano on a theme by Paganini, Op. 35 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1862-1863; Austria 
7.
Variations and Fugue for Piano in B flat major on a theme by Handel, Op. 24 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1861; Germany 
8.
Variations (11) for Piano on an Original Theme, Set 1, Op. 21 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1857; Germany 
9.
Variations (13) for Piano on a Hungarian Dance, Set 2, Op. 21 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1857; Germany 
10.
Variations (16) for Piano in F sharp minor on a Theme by Schumann, Op. 9 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
11.
Ballades (4) for Piano, Op. 10 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Haakon Austbö (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
12.
Rhapsodies (2) for Piano, Op. 79 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Haakon Austbö (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1879; Austria 
13.
Pieces (8) for Piano, Op. 76 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Haakon Austbö (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Austria 
14.
Fantasies (7) for Piano, Op. 116 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Haakon Austbö (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
15.
Intermezzi (3) for Piano, Op. 117 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Haakon Austbö (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
16.
Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 118 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Haakon Austbö (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
17.
Pieces (4) for Piano, Op. 119 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Haakon Austbö (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
18.
Hungarian Dances (10) for Piano solo by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1872; Austria 
19.
Studies (5) for Piano, Anh. 1a/1 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Austria 
20.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 11 in D minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
21.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 12 in D minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
22.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 13 in D major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
23.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 14 in D minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
24.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 15 in B flat major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
25.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 16 in F minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
26.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 17 in F sharp minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
27.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 18 in D major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868-1880; Austria 
28.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 19 in B minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
29.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 20 in E minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
30.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 21 in E minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868-1880; Austria 
31.
Sarabande for Piano in A minor, WoO posth. 5/1 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
32.
Sarabande for Piano in B minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855; Germany 
33.
Gavotte for Piano in A minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
34.
Gavotte for Piano in A major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855; Germany 
35.
Gigue for Piano in A minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
36.
Gigue for Piano in B minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
37.
Gavotte for Piano in A major after Gluck, Anh. 1a/2 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: ?1868; Germany 
38.
Study for the Left Hand in E flat major after Schubert's D 899 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Germany 
39.
Theme and Variations for Piano in D minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Louis Demetrius Alvanis (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1860; Germany 

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