Brahms, Piano Sonatas 1 and 2 / Scherzo, op. 4, A. Melnikov
(released on February 8, 2011)
HMC 902086 | 69'23"
Brahms was finished with the piano sonata not long after that, completing no. 3 (by far the most often recorded of the Brahms piano sonatas) in the same year and then focusing on large sets of variations and sets of smaller character pieces. Schumann gave an insight into Brahms's approach to the genre, equating the sonatas he heard Brahms play with "veiled symphonies," and describing the young man's playing "turning the piano into an orchestra of wailing and jubilant voices." We have a good idea of what that could sound like on the modern Steinway, but how might it have sounded when Brahms played it? Admittedly, this instrument was built a couple decades too late -- an Erard, like the one heard on this Dichterliebe recording, was the prized instrument chez les Schumann, or Clara's Graf piano, which the Erard replaced and she subsequently gave to Brahms, would be better. Still, the Bösendorfer gives Melnikov a whole side of soft and murky shading in its tone, with some limitations on the amplitude of sound at the forte end. Having a better idea of what was possible on the instruments Brahms played can help fill out our understanding of what Brahms meant when he wrote down what he did. Add the fact that there is no clear favorite for these two sonatas on modern piano -- perhaps the Richter set (Decca) -- and this disc is easy to recommend.