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BRAHMS: Rhapsodies in g minor and in b minor; Chorales Op. 122; 16 Waltzes; Variations on an Original Theme – Nada Loufti (p.) – MEII

A different sort of Brahms recital from Nada Loufti reveals the textural variety of the composer.

Vienna: BRAHMS & Nada = Rhapsody in g minor, Op. 79, No. 2; Chorales, Op. 122: No. 1 in e minor “Mein Jesu, der du mich”; Rhapsody No. 1 in b minor, Op. 79, No. 1; 16 Waltzes, Op. 39; Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21, No. 1 – Nada Loufti, piano – MEII, 68:12 (4/13/17) [meiienterprises@aol.com] 

Nada recorded this all-Brahms recital 14 January 2017 at Heeren Auditorium, Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.  She opens with the second of the two Rhapsodies Brahms composed in 1880 with a dedication to Elisabeth von Herzogenberg. Psychologically speaking, consider that for Brahms even a ‘rhapsody’ must evolve in sonata-form. After a thrusting arpeggiated triad that exploits D and E-flat, the piece assumes a martial stringency of mood, moving to d minor.  Nada negotiates the persistent rising and falling seconds with a pungent sense of concentrated drama. Happily, her tempo remains solemnly slow and her sonority resonant, courtesy of Recording Engineer Adam Copelin. Nada’s bass tones enjoy a distinctly ominous aura, making Brahms sound much like Mussorgsky. The b minor Rhapsody seems beset by strife and agitation, finding relief in nostalgia. The anguish modulates both to d minor and f minor. The key of F-sharp becomes a pivot for Brahms to canter moodily in to D Major, a color that Nada imbues with tender reminiscence. Rather subtle in its harmonic shifts, the piece uses G-flat as the enharmonic alter-ego of F-sharp to shade its versions of inner turmoil. The three chords that serve as the music’s leitmotif assume various characters, often convulsive, with Nada’s often ignoring the indication for molto dolce espessivo for a more potent incarnation of the passion.

The esoteric curiosity of this recital lies in Nada’s transcription of the Brahms chorale, Op. 122, No. 1, a series of six fugues, in steady crescendo, based on the words of the text. With the solid, often percussive treatment Nada affords the arioso, the music could have been penned by Busoni. The text announces the persona’s entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven: “Hear Lord, your servant sings loud in three rejoicings.” The descending scale begins at B and descends to G, and the added notes in the bass compensate for the organ pedal effects, a mighty dirge and psalm fused in monumental splendor.

The 1867 16 Waltzes serve as the composer’s love-song to Vienna, and particularly to its major critic, Eduard Hansick.  Much in the manner of Schubert, all the waltzes evolve in binary form. They each lilt and sway in sophisticated patterns, some of which reveal the gypsy or Hungarian influence (No. 7 in c# minor; No. 11 in b minor; No. 14 in g# minor) popular in the Vienna bistros and familiar to Brahms from his days as an accompanist to the violinist Remenyi. Nada gives the No. 5 in E Major “Grazioso” a rather peasant stamp. The No. 6 in C-sharp Major glistens, although its patina is made of marble. Nada makes the No. 8 in B-flat charming in its leaping octave, syncopated progression, exploiting the composer’s fondness for dotted rhythm. The contrast in D-flat Major comes through as a reluctant touch of light. The succeeding Waltz in d minor proceeds by strong and weak beats, which Nada intones with an impish resolve, and the rocking motion almost suggests the Symphony No. 4 opening. The key of E Major always begets warm affection in Brahms, and the Waltz No. 12 has a rich texture that no less provides shades of meaning. The g-sharp minor No. 14 has all the verve and slanted figures of a Hungarian czardas, with a wicked driving force and the accent on beat two.  One long note and three short notes define the famous Waltz in A-flat Major, perhaps the most concentrated homage a Vienne we have. The flowing triplets and sixths at the end reveal Nada as a true Brahms advocate. The final Waltz in c-sharp minor converges two themes in counterpoint, which then inverts the two lines effortlessly. A moment of reluctant mirth appears in F Major.

The twenty-eight-year-old Brahms conceived only two sets of piano variations on his own theme, and one of these derives from his second movement of the Op. 18 String Sextet. Nada here plays the other, a set of eleven variants on a lovely theme of a pair of nine bars in D Major. The extended impression we have from this set testifies to the composer’s love of “archaic” procedures in canon and an obsessive pedal bass, another point of comparison with his late Symphony No. 4 and its passacaglia.  Still, the musical textures can belie the “learned” aspects of the writing, and suggest a tender element close to the composer’s idol, Schumann. The counterpoint and its permutations can easily hint at developments by successors Schoenberg and Webern. Nada calls this set of variations “a mastery of beautiful imagination which. . .takes you into paradise.” Her playing mirrors her conviction.

—Gary Lemco

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