Piano Sonata No. 3,
Op. 10/2, 4, Op. 118/3.
, Op. 116/2 and 6.
, Op. 119/4
Barry Douglas (pn)
CHANDOS 10757 (68:35)
Barry Douglas’s recordings of Brahms’s piano music—this is the second volume of a planned complete cycle—offer an assortment of individual pieces from different periods and opuses. It’s an enjoyable way to listen to this repertoire. Aside from the op. 116
which has cyclical elements, Brahms’s other collections don’t necessarily need to be played complete or with the individual pieces in their published order. Here, a group of shorter pieces precedes the featured work, the Third Sonata.
Douglas plays with technical ease and full-bodied sound, reveling in the richness of Brahms’s thicker textures. His interpretations are, for the most part, straightforward, logical, and most convincing in the more extroverted music. This approach is particularly well suited to the jovial Rhapsody, op. 119, which is not to say that Douglas’s way with the gentler intermezzos lacks sensitivity.
In the Sonata No. 3, he handles the first movement’s huge sonorities extremely well, but plays almost too fluently in the scherzo, which should sound like a vertiginous beer-hall waltz. It’s in the work’s second movement that his performance falls short. There are two interpretive schools of thought about this rapturous movement, one that conceives of it as being extremely slow and drawn out, and another that takes its
marking as an instruction to the player to keep things moving until the movement’s final
section. Douglas is of the latter opinion, and for me, his mundane “walking” tempo doesn’t conjure up the twilit love scene of the poem inscribed in the score. I remain under the spell of a recording of a live performance by Claudio Arrau (reviewed in 36:6) that exemplifies the former approach.
While this CD, very well recorded by Chandos, and with fine booklet notes by Calum MacDonald, can be recommended for Douglas’s good, solid Brahms playing, I prefer a recent Brahms disc (reviewed in 36:4) in which Alessio Bax creates greater atmosphere in the op. 10 ballades through refined voicing and a more extreme delineation of dynamics. The pianist and conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who is barely represented on recordings, has an extraordinary all-Brahms piano music disc, also containing the ballades, available on Amazon.