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Brahms: Handel Variations, Waltzes & Fantasias / Dichter

Brahms / Dichter
Release Date: 09/13/2011 
Label:  Nimbus   Catalog #: 2578  
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Misha Dichter
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

I wasn’t too complimentary about Misha and Cipa Dichter’s Mozart release, but intrigued to hear what Misha would do with Brahms, and do indeed find this recording somewhat more easy to love. As usual, the Waltzes Op.39 open somewhat brutally, but as things progress Dichter brings a fine sense of contrast to the lighter pieces, though there isn’t much feel of the dance about them. These are concert pieces but my feeling is that there should always be at least a whiff, and preferably a warm blast of the dance hall behind them. Listening to Wilhelm Backhaus in 1939 on a Naxos Historical release 8.110766 always brings this to mind – keeping his feet moving along with the sweep of the music even at its most intimate. Dichter’s playing is fine, Read more but he does tend to pull things around quite a lot, so the waltz rhythm can become rather diluted. These pieces are also divided into two tracks – 1-8 and 9-16.

The Fantasias Op.116 are impressive, but Dichter can be a bit splashy when pulling out all the stops, though the rather close recording may be a factor in one’s impressions in this. The first Capriccio is a case in point. I still quite often return to the big Brahms box brought out by Nimbus on NI1788 and played by Martin Jones. Even with a more distant sounding piano there is a sense of greater nuance in the playing though it’s not always perfect. Where Brahms is shovelling notes into the piano as if it were a full orchestra Jones can approach a recreation of that effect, rather than giving the impression of a piano straining at its limits. Misha Dichter is at his best in the more delicate moments, and his poetry in the E major Intermezzo – Adagio is sublime. The E minor Intermezzo is stealthy rather than really enigmatic, but is nicely shaped, and the following Andantino teneramente has restrained gravitas and lyricism which brings Dichter in a good 40 seconds or so longer than the more sweeping but also more uplifting Jones.

With the Handel Variations I’ve had the privilege of reviewing Murray Perahia’s recording for Sony Classical, which appeared not long after Garrick Ohlsson’s complete set of the solo piano variations. Dichter is good here, but doesn’t beat this weight of competition. There is a combination of small technical elements which make me uncomfortable in this recording. There is a certain amount of placing accents in some variations – a micro-delay which highlights but also over-emphasises. As well as this there can be great deal of rhythmic pulling around, which makes Dichter’s playing seem almost eccentric at times. There are plenty of fine moments as well and the final Fuga is a real tour de force. I don’t want to be over-critical, but either way these are just two reasons which mean this wouldn’t be my first choice.

This is a well recorded Brahms recital and by no means unattractive as a package, and I must say I have enjoyed hearing it. Fans of Misha Dichter will be glad to have this recording made available through the MusicMasters licensing deal with Nimbus. I’ve become a bit spoilt with brand new recordings these days, and do find myself seeking the closest path to the composer rather than having an interest in pianists in general, so I have to allow that tastes differ, and Dichter’s personal view on Brahms may appeal more to you on a long-term basis. On the whole there are more pluses than minuses in this case, so enjoy!

-- Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Variations and Fugue for Piano in B flat major on a theme by Handel, Op. 24 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Misha Dichter (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1861; Germany 
Fantasies (7) for Piano, Op. 116 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Misha Dichter (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Austria 
Waltzes (16) for Piano 4 hands, Op. 39 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Misha Dichter (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 

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