Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Volodos plays Brahms

It is highly unusual for me to buy a CD of Brahms piano music. I enjoy a wide range of piano music, especially Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Rachmaninov. I no more can play the piano than I can play the marimba, so the piano music of the “pianist” composers does not feature prominently on my shelves; little Liszt, Brahms, Chopin, Schumann, Scriabin (Rachmaninov is an exception). But I was curious about all the critical furore regarding a new Brahms piano music CD recorded by Arcadi Volodos, so I ventured out with my money, and bought it. And I have now listened to it many times.

When it comes to solo piano music, I still greatly prefer Rachmaninov to Brahms. However, Mr Volodos does an excellent job in persuading me to keep this CD for frequent listening. It is not so much the music; it's the playing. Volodos has an uncanny talent for light and shade, for graduations of piano (not much of the music on the CD is vigorous or loud). So I sit entranced listening to Volodos's piano playing. The three Opus 117 intermezzi are familiar – even to me – but what piano playing!

I cannot say I am in the market now for Brahms piano recitals. But if Volodos ever records more Brahms, I'll be there with my money. I sense Volodos is not a pianist for the great classics; the magic (a word I usually dislike and avoid) is in his playing, rather than in the music. Just what is required, to my mind, for Brahms opus 76, 117 and 118. A comparison springs to mind with the conductor Thomas Beecham, who was superb in lavishing meticulous attention on minor works, but who left the "big" works of Beethoven, Brahms, etc. to others.

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