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Backhaus Plays Brahms


Release Date: 02/24/2004 
Label:  Music & Arts Programs Of America Catalog #: 1132   Spars Code: AAD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 2 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Wilhelm Backhaus is probably best remembered for his late recordings, where he appears as a wise and thoughtful patrician of the piano delivering non-interventionist interpretations of the summits of the Classical and Romantic Germanic repertoire. As Pearl’s recent collection of his British acoustics reminds us, however, this d’Albert pupil started his career as a searing virtuoso who could toss off Liszt and even Moszkowski bon-bons with panache. These HMV Brahms recordings, made between 1929 and 1936, catch him somewhere in between these two dispositions. On the one hand, there’s a repudiation of self-indulgent display: the interpretations are straightforward, the tone is on the dry side, and Backhaus’s considerable technical command is Read more always deployed in the service of the music. On the other hand, there’s a kind of raw energy and sharp rhythmic profile here that shows up only rarely on the more even-tempered recordings of his later years (say, the Beethoven sonatas on the Backhaus volume of Philips’s “Great Pianists” series).

When these qualities match the needs of the music, the results command attention. Few pianists have a better grasp of the almost Alkanesque wildness of the Scherzo, for instance; and Backhaus perfectly captures the dramatic striving of the Capriccio, op. 76/8. He’s just as successful when it comes to conveying the seething ferocity of the Rhapsody, op. 79/1, the anxiousness of the A sections of the Intermezzo, op. 119/2, the gutsy vehemence of the Capriccio, op. 76/2, or the urgent rhythmic contestations of the Intermezzo, op. 119/3. There’s more to Brahms than this, however, and the less extroverted music is sometimes flattened, even battered. The opening of the Intermezzo, op. 117/1, would benefit from more subtle inflection; he punches away, sometimes brutally, at the Waltzes (although he does a good job with the wacky rhythmic displacements of No. 6); and the more autumnal of the late pieces are often curtly dispatched.

I don’t mean to suggest that he’s either consistently rigid or consistently plain: listen to the almost jazzy rhythms of the Intermezzo, op. 76/7, for instance, or to the imaginative voicing in the 11th variation of the first book of the Paganini Variations. He gives the Intermezzo, op. 118/6, a surprisingly proto-impressionistic haze. But the playing is certainly often too stony: despite the graciousness of the Allegretto grazioso section, the Romance, op. 118/5, is ultimately too detached, both in touch and in emotion.

Whatever the weaknesses, though, this is a fascinating collection that helps fill out our appreciation of an important and complex artist, and it’s regrettable that the production is not up to Music & Arts’s highest standards. The ordering of the pieces on the CDs seems random—they’re organized neither by date of recording nor by date of composition, with the consequence that neither the composer’s nor the pianist’s development is represented. (Indeed, even Music & Arts seems to have been flummoxed by the arbitrary structure—they’ve accidentally included the same performance of op. 116/4 twice, once as “Intermezzo in E Major” and a second time as “Intermezzo in E Minor.”) Pieces that shared the same 78-rpm side share the same band, too, thus reifying the limitations of an outdated technology. More important, the sound itself is mediocre—the Biddulph survey of Backhaus’s Brahms worked from better sources and offered superior reprocessing. Still, the Biddulph series is mostly out of print now—and the Music & Arts versions certainly convey the spirit of the interpretations. Recommended for pianophiles.

Peter J. Rabinowitz, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Ballades (4) for Piano, Op. 10: no 1 in D minor "Edward" by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/05/1932 
Length: 4 Minutes 0 Secs. 
2.
Ballades (4) for Piano, Op. 10: no 2 in D major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/05/1932 
Length: 4 Minutes 53 Secs. 
3.
Scherzo for Piano in E flat minor, Op. 4 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/05/1932 
Length: 7 Minutes 35 Secs. 
4.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 1 in B major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Length: 4 Minutes 10 Secs. 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 2, 3, 4, and 5. 
5.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 15 in A flat major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 12, 13, 14, and 16. 
6.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 6 in D flat major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/01/1933 
Length: 4 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Hungarian Dance no 7 in A major. 
7.
Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 7 in A major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/01/1933 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Hungarian Dance no 6 in D flat major. 
8.
Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 118: no 3, Ballade in G minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/05/1932 
Length: 3 Minutes 23 Secs. 
9.
Pieces (8) for Piano, Op. 76: no 7, Intermezzo in A minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/05/1932 
Length: 4 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Capriccio in C major,
Op 76 no 8. 
10.
Pieces (8) for Piano, Op. 76: no 8, Capriccio in C major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/05/1932 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Intermezzo in A minor,
Op 76 no 7. 
11.
Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 118: no 4, Intermezzo in F minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/07/1932 
Length: 4 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Romance in F major,
Op 118 no 5. 
12.
Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 118: no 5, Romance in F major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/07/1932 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Intermezzo in F minor,
Op 118 no 4. 
13.
Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 118: no 6, Intermezzo in E flat minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/07/1932 
Length: 4 Minutes 8 Secs. 
14.
Rhapsodies (2) for Piano, Op. 79: no 1 in B minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1879; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/07/1932 
Length: 7 Minutes 55 Secs. 
15.
Rhapsodies (2) for Piano, Op. 79: no 2 in G minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1879; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/07/1932 
Length: 4 Minutes 5 Secs. 
16.
Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 118: no 1, Intermezzo in A minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/05/1932 
Length: 4 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Intermezzo in A major,
Op 118 no 2. 
17.
Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 118: no 2, Intermezzo in A major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/05/1932 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Intermezzo in A minor, Op 118 no 1. 
18.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 3 in G sharp minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 1, 2,
4, and 5. 
19.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 4 in E minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 1, 2,
3, and 5. 
20.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 5 in E major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 1, 2,
3, and 4. 
21.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 6 in C sharp major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Length: 4 Minutes 41 Secs. 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. 
22.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 7 in C sharp minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 6, 8,
9, 10, and 11. 
23.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 8 in B flat major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 6, 7, 9, 10, and 11. 
24.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 9 in D minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 6, 7,
8, 10, and 11. 
25.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 10 in G major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11. 
26.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 11 in B minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. 
27.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 12 in E major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Length: 4 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 13, 14, 15, and 16. 
28.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 13 in B major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 12, 14,
15, and 16. 
29.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 14 in G sharp minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 12, 13,
15, and 16. 
30.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 16 in C sharp minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 12, 13, 14, and 15. 
31.
Fantasies (7) for Piano, Op. 116: no 4, Intermezzo in E major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/09/1936 
Length: 4 Minutes 14 Secs. 
32.
Intermezzi (3) for Piano, Op. 117: no 1 in E flat major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/09/1936 
Length: 4 Minutes 29 Secs. 
33.
Intermezzi (3) for Piano, Op. 117: no 2 in B flat minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/09/1936 
Length: 3 Minutes 35 Secs. 
34.
Pieces (4) for Piano, Op. 119: no 1, Intermezzo in B minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/09/1936 
Length: 3 Minutes 42 Secs. 
35.
Pieces (4) for Piano, Op. 119: no 2, Intermezzo in E minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Length: 4 Minutes 14 Secs. 
36.
Variations (11) for Piano on an Original Theme, Set 1, Op. 21 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1857; Germany 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Length: 9 Minutes 8 Secs. 
37.
Variations (28) for Piano on a theme by Paganini, Op. 35 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1862-1863; Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/19/1929 
Length: 16 Minutes 32 Secs. 
38.
Pieces (8) for Piano, Op. 76: no 2, Capriccio in B minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Length: 3 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Intermezzo in C major, Op 119 no 3. 
39.
Pieces (4) for Piano, Op. 119: no 3, Intermezzo in C major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Capriccio in B minor, Op
76 no 2. 
40.
Fantasies (7) for Piano, Op. 116: no 1, Capriccio in D minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/09/1936 
Length: 4 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Intermezzo in A minor, Op 116 no 2. 
41.
Fantasies (7) for Piano, Op. 116: no 2, Intermezzo in A minor by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/09/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Capriccio in D minor, Op 116 no 1. 
42.
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39: no 2 in E major by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/27/1936 
Notes: This selection shares a track and timing with the Waltzes Op 39 no 1, 3,
4, and 5. 

Sound Samples

4 Ballades, Op. 10: No. 1 in D minor, "Edward"
4 Ballades, Op. 10: No. 2 in D major
Scherzo in E flat minor, Op. 4: Scherzo in E flat major, Op. 4
16 Waltzes, Op. 39: No. 1 in B major - No. 2 in E major - No. 15 in A flat major
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1: No. 6 in D flat major - No. 7 in A flat major
6 Piano Pieces, Op. 118: No. 3. Ballade in G minor
8 Piano Pieces, Op. 76: No. 7. Intermezzo in A minor - No. 8. Capriccio in C major
6 Piano Pieces, Op. 118: No. 4. Intermezzo in F minor - No. 5. Romanze in F major
6 Piano Pieces, Op. 118: No. 6. Intermezzo in E flat minor
2 Rhapsodies, Op. 79: No. 1 in B minor
2 Rhapsodies, Op. 79: No. 2 in G minor
6 Piano Pieces, Op. 118: No. 1. Intermezzo in A minor - No. 2. Intermezzo in A major
16 Waltzes, Op. 39: Nos. 1-5
16 Waltzes, Op. 39: Nos. 6-11
16 Waltzes, Op. 39: Nos. 12-16
7 Fantasien, Op. 116: 7 Fantasies, Op. 116: No. 4. Intermezzo in E major
3 Intermezzos, Op. 117: Intermezzo No. 1 in E flat major
3 Intermezzos, Op. 117: Intermezzo No. 2 in B flat minor
4 Piano Pieces, Op. 119: No. 1. Intermezzo in B minor
4 Piano Pieces, Op. 119: No. 2. Intermezzo in E minor
7 Fantasien, Op. 116: 7 Fantasies, Op. 116: No. 5 Intermezzo in E minor
11 Variations on an Original Theme in D major, Op. 21, No. 1: Variations on an Original Theme in D major, Op. 21, No. 1
28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 35: Book 1: Theme - Variations 1-8
28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 35: Book 1: Variations 9-13
28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 35: Book 1: Variation 14 - Book 2: Variations 1-8
28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 35: Book 2: Variation 9
8 Piano Pieces, Op. 76: Capricco No. 2 in B minor - 4 Piano Pieces, Op. 119: No. 3. Intermezzo in C major
7 Fantasien, Op. 116: 7 Fantasies, Op. 116: No. 1. Capriccio in D minor - No. 2. Intermezzo in A minor

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