I am a huge fan of the piano music by Johannes Brahms. This is no surprise, really, because the piano was Brahms’ instrument, and he gave concerts throughout Europe, frequently with violinist Joseph Joachim.
On this recording, we get to listen to the following:
Brahms: Works for Solo Piano Volume 4
Ballades (4), Op. 10
Rhapsodies (2), Op. 79
Klavierstücke (4), Op. 119
Variations on a theme by Paganini in A minor, Op. 35: Books 1 & 2
Performed by Jonathan Plowright (piano)
The theme of Paganini’s 24th Caprice for solo violin has tempted a number of composers to compose variations on it – from Liszt to Lutosławski and Andrew Lloyd Webber. In 1863, Johannes Brahms was one of the first to take on the challenge, with his virtuosic Paganini Variations. Playing the set has famously been described as requiring ‘fingers of steel, a heart of burning lava and the courage of a lion’ and possibly the demands that they place on the performer is the main reason why Brahms organized his 28 variations into two books of 14 each. For the fourth instalment in his series of Brahms’s piano music, Jonathan Plowright has chosen to place the two books at either end of the program.
Between them we are presented with works spanning almost 40 years of Brahms’s life.
25 years later, Brahms had entered a phase where his works for piano were growing ever shorter and more concise, but with his Op. 79 Rhapsodies he made something of a return to the grandeur and passion of his early piano writing. This development was short-lived, however, and the following works for solo piano, of which the four piano pieces of Op. 119 from 1893 would be the last, have been compared to ‘the golden lustre of parks in autumn and the austere black and white of winter walks’.
Here is Mr. Plowright playing my great favorites, the three Intermezzi, Opus 117 by Johannes Brahms: