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Nicholas Angelich (et al.) in Brahms

available at Amazon
Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 2 / Klavierstücke, op. 76, N. Angelich, Frankfurt RSO, P. Järvi

(released on June 8, 2010)
Virgin 266349 2 | 74'37"

available at Amazon
Brahms, Piano Quartets 1-3,
R. Capuçon, G. Caussé,
G. Capuçon, N. Angelich

(released on October 28, 2008)
Virgin 519310 2 | 128'02"

Online scores:
Brahms, op. 25 | op. 26 | op. 60
op. 76 | op. 83
The latest in Virgin's generally good, occasionally excellent "French Brahms" series of recordings again features pianist Nicholas Angelich (born in America but educated and based in France). The label has released in close succession many of the pieces Brahms wrote for the piano, including the piano trios (a beautiful recording with the Capuçon brothers), the violin sonatas (with Renaud Capuçon), two volumes of the piano pieces, the first piano concerto (paired with the Hungarian Dances for four hands, with Frank Braley), and the 2-CD set of the piano quartets also under review here. (One could throw in the Brahms recording, one of the piano quartets and the piano quintet, with the Quatuor Ébène and Akiko Yamamoto on the same label.)

As heard in live performance, Angelich's approach to Brahms tends toward the suppressed and penumbral. That reticence, which can make for very pleasing Brahms, became an unexpected drawback in a concert performance of one of the Brahms piano trios, with the Capuçon brothers earlier this year. Live in an auditorium, something about the tone of the strings was too strident or Angelich did not dig enough into the keyboard. That imbalance is rectified for the most part in recording, perhaps with the help of microphone adjustments, but the stridency of the strings (the Capuçons with violist Gérard Caussé), while creating some exciting moments, keeps this recording somewhere in the middle of the many options for these magnificent works, amid a burgeoning crop of new recordings.

On his own, perhaps because he is without the showier Capuçons, Angelich seems less retiring on his solo outings. He gives a shuddering performance of the emotional excesses of the second piano concerto, in a disc that could be paired nicely with that of the first concerto. Paavo Järvi, whose name is appearing with impressive regularity in my inbox of new releases to assess, leads an equally explosive performance by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, the prominent solos for cello and horn handled with aplomb and matching Angelich's intensity, both exterior and interior. His account of the op. 76 solo pieces is the best part of the disc, showing how a more understated personality, someone less apt to showboat and seek the spotlight, can be such a good match for Brahms. The excellent sound is detailed and close, meaning that you can hear creaks of the bench and the felt-softened crunch as the damper pedal engages and releases, as well as the most anguished whispers of Angelich's playing.

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