XXI XXI-CD 2 1717
As youthful in appearance as pianist Murray Perahia may be, he is now rightfully regarded as one of the veterans of the concert-stage, having enjoyed a successful international career ever since making his debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1966. His recordings cover most of the major repertoire, yet for some reason, the music of Brahms has never figured prominently in his creative output. (Perhaps he felt that Bach was better suited for his recurring hand ailment.) Nevertheless, he has finally returned to the master from Hamburg in this Sony recording which features the Handel Variations, the two Rhapsodies Op.79, and two sets of Piano Pieces, Opp.118 and 119. From the very opening measures of the Handel Variations, the listener senses that this disc is a winner. True to his pianistic style, the playing is controlled, elegant, and naturally, technically flawless. This is decidedly Brahms for the 21st century, clean and straight-ahead without being fussy and over-sentimentalized. I did find some of his tempos a bit brisk, such as in the first rhapsody, and the first two Intermezzos in the set of piano pieces Op.118. And I also found the tone a little bright – a little more bass please! But this is the Perahia we have come to know and respect, at all times allowing the music to speak for itself.
From a veteran, we go to music of Brahms as performed by a young Canadian artist, Stéphan Sylvestre. Currently on faculty at the University of Western Ontario, Sylvestre is a graduate of the Université de Montréal and the Glenn Gould School. He was twice a prize-winner at the Jeunesses Musicales of Canada, and also a winner at the Prix d’Europe, the Canadian Music Competition, and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Competition. This CD, on the XXI label, is his fourth, and features the Brahms Ballades Op.10, and the two sets of Piano Pieces Op.118 and 119. In contrast to Perahia’s no-nonsense interpretation, Sylvestre’s approach is much more romantic, but equally appealing. His playing is introspective and thoughtful, imbued with a deep sensitivity. Tempos are considerably more languorous, and he produces a wonderfully warm and resonant tone from the instrument. If this is Brahms for the 19th century, so be it – Sylvestre’s masterful performance is a welcome presence in our sometimes harsh and too- technologically advanced world.
So for all lovers of Brahms’ piano music (and there should be many), these are two fine recordings, both of them welcome additions to the catalogue.