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BRAHMS  RHAPSODIES Op79



The Brahms Rhapsodies Op79, composed when the composer was at the height of his powers, are magnificent compositions. According to the story, however, they are misnamed. Brahms originaly called them Klavierstuke, piano pieces. He reluctantly changed the name to Rhapsodies at the request of Elizabeth von Herzogenberg. a friend and musician to whom he had dedicated the pieces.

I begin with recordings of the second rhapsodie by Artur Schnabel, which while a bit stilted rhythmical is very good, the first by Rehberg, and of both rhapsodies by Egon Petri, Wilhelm Backhaus, one of the greatest pianists of them all. This is Brahms.

Glenn Gould has been accused of being a genius, a lunatic, and almost everything in-between. I belong to the genius camp. When he plays music the way it should be played it is sublime. His Bach is sublime. When he plays music the way it "shouldn't" be played, he shows the way to an alternate universe in which his way is exactly the way it should be played. Yes, perhaps one must accept a premise or two.

Many have said his Brahms (and Mozart, and Beethoven) is stylistically incorrect. Well, perhaps it is not Brahms' style.  But whatever that is, it is most certainly Brahms' music which is much less obvious (read straight forward and so frequently stodgily played) than it sometimes appears to be.  His music often holds the secrets of a wild man.  In his recordings of both Rhapsodies from Op 79, Gould seems to have found them out and used them as the basis of his interpretations. I have not been able to enjoy quite to the same degree the Katchen and Lupu recordings I loved so much, and for so long, since I recovered from the first shock of hearing Gould's Brahms recordings. This is a master at work. As for those who seem to have intimate knowledge of the style of Bach, Brahms, allow me to point out that Bach's recordings on a modern Steinway... oh wait. Perhaps more to the point, if one listens to the few recordings made by those pianists (Ilona Eibenschutz, Etelka Freund)who learned to play Brahms's music at his feet, under his direction, you will find more in common with Gould's approach than with that of Julius Katchen, a great pianist and reputed Brahms specialist, but one who may not quite have perceived the Brahms I know and love, the Brahms who wrote the opening of the D minor piano concerto and never looked back.

Richter, like Gould, is a force of nature, a music whisperer. He is often capable of swaying the balance toward passion and away from whimsy, but I have never heard a performance by this giant that was not wonderfully though out and that did not make perfect sense within the context of his premiss.

Artur Rubinstein is considered by many to be the ultimate pianist. But there are two Rubinsteins, the young hotshot of the '30s and '40, and, well, the other. Listen to both Rubinstein recordings of the first rhapsodie. The one from 1941 (under eight minutes long) is passionate, intense, and daring. The later recording, probably from the 1960s, is much slower at over 9 minutes, and entirely disappointing. The younger Rubinstein was an amazing pianist who seemed excited by every note, every modulation, every deceptive cadence.  He was all about discovery.  At some point - and please forgive me if I tread on a pianist about whom you are passionate - having discovered, he became all about preservation. He ceased to be daring and found a language common to everything he played. He played beautifully, but to my ear without the passion of his youth. Some of his fans declare him to have been a master of the French repertoire. Some say no one could play the great Spanish composers the way he could. All believe him to have been the ultimate Chopinist. To my ear, he plays them all the same way, beautifully, but without stylistic authenticity, and, again, without the passion of discovery.

Why, you might ask, do I take the trouble to say all this? Because I believe him to be one of those supremely successful pianists who is in part responsible for the last significant evolution in pianism, one that is now in its third generation. In general, the performance style of today is polite. To paraphrase an old and tired comment, no emotions please, we're British.  (But then, Solomon is perfect, as always, in spite of being British).

This being said, Rubinstein was a great pianist, his performances never do harm to the music, and he is an institution. And as you listen to the interpretations that follow his own of these two wonderful Brahms Rhapsodies Op79, his will stand as a pinnacle of sorts on each side of which your ear will place the inspired and the mundane.

Lili Kraus is wonderful. Richter-Haaser's performances of the Brahms Rhapsodies Op79 are very exciting, a bit too exciting for my taste and insufficiently rhapsodic in nature, but the contrasting slow sections are delicious. Agnelle Bundervoet captures the simultaneous vertical rhythms and forward momentum many of Brahms' works in a thoroughly satisfying performance of a somewhat more deliberate approach to the first rhapsodie.

Zechlin, a pianist with whose playing I must become more familiar, is extremely convincing. And while his approach is not the way I hear the music, I look forward to hearing these rhapsodies, and other of his recordings, many times.

To my great surprise and delight, the performances by Murray Perahia of the Brahms Rhapsodies Op79 are stunning. To my ear, he gets this music in a way that I have found lacking in many of his earlier recordings. I think it is time for me to revisit this pianist.  It certainly won't be the first time I have changed my mind . . . if indeed I do change my mind.

I also very much admire the exciting performances by the Hungarian Vazsonyi.  On the other hand, Radu Lupu's playing of Brahms, which I once found very satisfying, I find devoid of passion, at least in the case of these rhapsodies. And Duchable, whose playing I admire greatly, also disappoints, though perhaps a bit less in the G minor rhapsodie.

Martha Argerich is magnificent, as always. Her performances have a tautness and intensity that is Brahms, and her phrasing is delicious. I find Dinorah Varsi's performances of the Brahms Rhapsodies Op79 beautifully satisfying. And Sokolov's reading of the first rhapsodie nothing short of operatic in scope.

There is a performance of the G minor by Yudina which, as in her famously distorted recording of Schubert's B♭ major Sonata, sounds like the ravings of a mad woman. And a performance by Cziffra which, while at times at the outer reaches of my own conception of the essence of Brahms, is very much Brahmsian in its approach and full of delicious and deliciously orchestral textures.  Brahms in a mood, perhaps?  Bring it on.

Of the younger (than I) pianists, Pogorelich has always been one I find awfully interesting. His performances almost always astound, agree or not with his decisions. His performances of the Brahms Rhapsodies Op79 are no exception. In them I hear things I had not considered, though I must say that his very personally eccentric conception of the 2nd rhapsodie misses the mark.

There is a group of very capable pianists who just plain don't get the music, or my idea of it. They pay little attention to the structural exigencies of the music, and they tend to get lost in their favorite parts. Some of their performances are very pretty, and I envy their dexterity, but I am unmoved by their interpretations. But I include them because the comparison of all these performances of the Rhapsodies Op79 is very interesting.

The performance by Avetisyan of the first rhapsody is also very fine. And then there is Stanislav Ossovsky. Who? you ask. I know nothing about him and have been able to find out even less. But I like his performances of the Brahms Rhapsodies Op79 very much.

To be clear, the fact that I have not mentioned a name specifically means neither that I like nor dislike the performance. You will have to use your own judgement as to its validity.



EGON PETRI
German-born Dutch pianist (1881-1962)

recorded in the mid 1950s


1 Agitato in B minor



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




ARTUR SCHNABEL
German pianist (1882-1951)

2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

recorded in 1947




WILHELM BACKHAUS
German pianist (1884-1969)

1 Agitato in B minor
07:56  2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

recorded in 1932




ARTHUR RUBINSTEIN
Polish-American pianist (1887-1982)


1 Agitato in B minor (rec 1941)



1 Agitato in B minor (rec 1960s?)



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor (rec 1960s?)




MARIA YUDINA
Russian pianist (1899-1970)

2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

recorded in 1952




WALTER REHBERG
Swiss pianist (1900-1957)

1 Agitato in B minor

recorded in 1928




SOLOMON
British pianist (1902-1988)

1 Agitato in B minor

recorded in 1956



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




LILI KRAUS
Hungarian pianist (1903-1986)

2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

recorded in 1952


this marvelous recording has been removed due to the closing of a YouTube account. It is my hope that it will be reposted by someone else.




HANS RICHTER-HAASER
German pianist (1912-1980)

recorded in 1979


1 Agitato in B minor



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




SVIATOSLAV RICHTER
Soviet pianist (1915-1997)

2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

recorded live in 1992



GYORGY CZIFFRA
Franco-Hungarian pianist (1921-1994)

1 Agitato in B minor




AGNELLE BUNDERVOET
Fench pianist (b 1922)

1 Agitato in B minor




JULIUS KATCHEN
American pianist (1926-1969)

recorded in 1965


1 Agitato in B minor



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




GLENN GOULD
Canadian pianist (1932-1982)


1 Agitato in B minor



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




BALINT VAZSONYI
Hungarian pianist (1936-2003)

1 Agitato in B minor
09:01  2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




JEROME ROSE
American pianist (b 1938)


1 Agitato in B minor




DINORAH VARSI
Uruguayan pianist (1939-2013)


1 Agitato in B minor 



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




MARTHA ARGERICH
Argentine pianist (b 1941)

1 Agitato in B minor



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor (rec 1960)




RADU LUPU
Romanian pianist (b 1945)

1 Agitato in B minor
2
Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor





DANIEL HOEXTER
Israeli pianist (b 1945)

1 Agitato in B minor

live video from 1986




CATHERINE COLLARD
French pianist (1947-1993)

1 Agitato in B minor
08:34  2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

recorded in 1990




MURRAY PERAHIA
American pianist (b 1947)

1 Agitato in B minor
09:02  2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

recorded in 2010




GRIGORY SOKOLOV
Russian pianist (b 1950)

recorded live in 1987


1
Agitato in B minor



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




François-René Duchable
French pianist (b 1952)


Brahms

Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op 35
Book 1
12:32  Book 2

Rhapsodies, Op 79
23:16  1 Agitato in B minor
32:02  2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

4 Klavierstücke, Op 119
38:27  1 Intermezzo
42:30  2 Intermezzo
47:19  3 Intermezzo
48:50  4 Rhapsody

recorded in 1981




PAVEL EGOROV
contemporary Russian pianist

1 Agitato in B minor




IRAKLY AVALIANI
contemporary Georgian pianist

1 Agitato in B minor
07:26  2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

recorded in 2007




IVO POGORELICH
Croatian pianist (b 1958)


1
Agitato in B minor



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




RAGNA SCHIRMER
German pianist (b 1972)

2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




ANTON MORDASOV
Russian pianist (b 1972)

2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

live video from 1999




BORIS KUSNEZOW
Russian-German pianist (b 1985)

recorded live


1 Agitato in B minor



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




STANISLAV OSSOVSKY


1 Agitato in B minor



2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor




ANNA AVETISYAN
contemporary Armenian pianist

1 Agitato in B minor

live 2013 video




LULIAN OCHESCU
Romanian pianist (b 1993)

2 Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro in G minor

recorded live in 2011










For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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