BRAHMS Complete Solo Piano Music Vol 4
As we reach Volume 4 of this complete solo Brahms traversal, there’s no doubt that Jonathan Plowright and old Johannes are on the best of terms. The programming of works from different stages in Brahms’s career points up the way earlier pieces can foreshadow his late style. Take the Op 10 Ballades, for example: the First has a rare inwardness that links it to Op 119. Sokolov may be more overtly reactive here but Plowright is no less telling – which is saying something! I like very much too the speed at which he takes the outer sections of the Second Ballade, avoiding sounding ponderous. In fact tempos are often on the quick side – as witness the second of the two Op 79 Rhapsodies – faster than Perahia, whose reading I much admire. Following this with Op 119 is a masterstroke, the first piece almost shocking in its introversion. Plowright is the equal of the very fine Vogt here, while in the third piece there’s a lightness of spirit, akin to that of Perahia’s, both of whom observe its Grazioso e giocoso marking to greater effect than Angelich.
The disc is bookended by the two volumes of Paganini Variations. Even Brahms’s most strenuous technical demands hold no fears, the abundant thirds and sixths of Vars 1 and 2 (Book 1) given with an almost airy ease. But more telling still is the sense of playfulness that Plowright brings not only to the theme itself but to myriad variations, which means that the points of stillness (Book 1, Vars 11 & 12) have a truly transcendental air. Plowright is very much the equal of Ohlsson, technically, and more imaginative still in the quieter music. He also has the benefit of superb sound from BIS and a piano that is clearly in tip-top condition.