Descrizione e testi
Performer: Dmitri Alexeev (*1947)
Brahms published this collection in 1879. It marvellously anticipates his late piano style (especially op. 118, to which certain pieces are very closely related), for the harmonic processes, in opposition to thematic variety, are getting ever more important to the formal layouts of the pieces.
Alexeev provides a gorgeous rendition, thrilling in as many of the atmospherical and characteristical registers as this set has to offer. Highlights of the recording certainly are:
-Those very Brahmsian, remorseful, almost crushing harmonies in No. 1 at 00:49
-The magically radiant and lucid rendition of the theme in the high treble toward the end of No. 3 at 08:23
-The closing climax of No. 5 (along with that earth-shattering final chord) going from 15:34.
1: 00:00 - Un poco agitato, f-sharp minor. The set's first piece begins with an electrifying opening section, a steady crescendo building up in a raging swell to culminate in a rush of C#-sharp major. What follows are merely melodic fragments, repeatedly running up to c#''. One of these fragments, consisting of four notes, is then developed in the outer voices until heading (vainly) for a new climax in the middle voice (01:29). A brief digress to d minor leads back to an even more amplified version of the opening section, after which, further treating the four-note-motif, the music slowly ebbs.
2: 03:24 - Allegretto non troppo, b minor. This well liked Capriccio bears a more conventional, less "through-composed" form than the one before him, thus for example does it feature a middle section (04:47). Despite its highly chromatic "grazioso"-playfulness, the character of the piece is not cheerful but rather dimmed by a kind of somberness.
3: 06:55 - Grazioso, A-flat major. The "grazioso" seems slightly out of place here (as in the "Adagio grazioso" slow movement from Beethoven's piano sonata op. 31/1), for this intermezzo stands out - and next to certain Brahms-songs as for example "An den Mond" op. 71/2 - as one of the most serene depictions of a quiet and bright moonlight scenery. A short middle section is shaped out of ascending triplets which return at the closing section of the piece.
4: 09:25 - Allegretto grazioso, B-flat major. A harmonically very wayward piece. The ostinato E-flat in the alto voice, in its function as the seventh of the dominant, prevents the music from arriving in its home key, B-flat major, which isn't reached until the very end - but eventually not through the dominant but the subdominant minor key. The whole thing is kinda absurd, this is probably the closest Brahms came to what one would call humour in music. Note furthermore how in 11:32, after the remote tonalities that have been explored during the middle section, he restores the harmonic atmosphere of the beginning in just half a measure so abruptly that it almost hurts.
5: 12:44 - Agitato, ma non troppo presto, c-sharp minor. In its energeticness, its motivical density and its tremendously dramatic and churned up character this piece seems to directly herald the Fourth Symphony as well as later piano pieces, e.g. the Ballade from op. 118. There is a striking three-against-two-polyrhythm constructed within the 6/8 beat of the beginning. Although there is no real middle section, don't miss the short yet beautiful lyrical passage starting at 13:56. This is the only piece of the set that unambiguously ends in a minor key.
6: 15:54 - Andante con moto, A major. A direct predecessor of the op. 118 intermezzo in the same key. Under the veiled beat of the outer sections lies a hidden melody formed by every quarter note.
7: 20:04 - Moderato semplice, a minor. A quiet, intimate mood prevails in this piece, paired with an unorthodox form, which adds a kind of narrative element to it: Its ABA-scheme consists of an extensive B section in contrary to a very short A-section, which is merely a statement opening and closing the piece. Though this music may well evoke Schumannesque "Innigkeit", the A-statement is formed after Chopin's f minor-Nocturne op. 55/1.
8: 24:03 - Grazioso ed un poco vivace, C major. A strong performance is needed to not let this piece miss its point, since an exultant major piece is not what we might have expected to get from Brahms at the end of such a set (and moreover, as one might argue, is this not his strongest category in general). Though while the contrapuctual writing in the piece is marginal, a closer look reveals an anarchy on the harmonic level that we seldom have with Brahms. Seriously, the music moves through the circle of fifths like on a rollercoaster. Take the passage during the opening section going from 24:55. The suddenly appearing d# seemingly leans to a minor but is in fact the disguised B major dominant of e minor, now pounding and trying to get at the surface for six bars - all resulting in the section closing in F major.
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