Brahms Klavierstücke, Opp 116 - 119
The seriousness of purpose and textural sophistication characterising Brahms’s late piano pieces befit Nicholas Angelich’s like-minded temperament. His penchant for linear clarity nearly matches that of Lars Vogt and Wilhelm Kempff, yet differs from the latter by way of broader basic tempi (and less alluring pedal effects) in slower, more introspective pieces. No doubt this explains why the four opus numbers spill over onto a bonus disc, whereas a single CD encompasses Kempff’s identical programme with room to spare.
Among the Op 116 Fantasias, standouts include Angelich’s scrupulously phrased Nos 1, 3 and 6. However, No 4’s descending right-hand melodies alternately marked dolce and espressivo aren’t sufficiently differentiated from the left hand’s triplet motives, while No 2 drags more than its Andante directive implies. Angelich’s ever-so-slight rubati in Op 117 No 1 shed uncommon light upon the music’s implicit cross rhythms. In No 2, he creates a novel and convincing texture by sometimes playing the short bass notes a split second ahead of the beat.
I do miss Op 118 No 4’s agitato momentum and genuine distinction between No 6’s hushed dynamic levels, although I’ll credit Angelich for his bracing, rock-solid No 3 and vocally informed shaping of No 5’s chorale-like textures. He grippingly ruminates over Op 119 No 1’s descending lines as if he was reluctant to let the music go, and intones a heftier No 3 than the lilting leggerio old-timers associate with Myra Hess at encore time. No 4 is a shade heavy, held back, and wanting in fluidity and forward impetus. Does Angelich command more colour, variety of touch, and lyrical warmth than the decent sound conveys?