BRAHMS: Four Ballades, Op. 10; Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79; Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35 – Nicholas Angelich, piano – Virgin Classics

by | Feb 21, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: Four Ballades, Op. 10; Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79; Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35 – Nicholas Angelich, piano – Virgin Classics 332628 2,  70:44 (Distrib. EMI) ****:

I know little of our pianist Nicholas Angelich other than what his artistry in Brahms tells me, and that he plays a Steinway D274 recorded in Grenoble, late March 2005. An American born in 1970, Mr. Angelich is predominantly French-trained, having received instruction from Michel Beroff and Aldo Ciccolini. He sports an elegant tone and a strong sense of line, the colors a product of his Gallic sensibilities. He produces an appealing wash in his tonal palette for the third of the Brahms Ballades (1854), which was a favorite of Michelangeli as well.  I am not dismissing his work in the D Minor and  D Major Ballades prior; but the elusive drama of this phantasiestuck perked my ears up distinctively. Angelich plays the last of the set with a wistfulness we are to hear again in the late Brahms intermezzi, like the B Minor, Op. 119, No. 1.  Angelich lets the piece unfold in the manner of a Schubert impromptu, his approach a cross between Katchen’s muscular attentiveness and Michelangeli’s lingering poetry.

Angelich takes a massive, broad approach to the B Minor Rhapsody, which eschews any improvisatory method and casts itself in abridged sonata-form, an agitated scherzo with a developed secondary theme. Declamatory and tender, the piece provides an introspective albeit heroic vehicle for Angelich‚s burly treatment. That Mr. Angelich can command a delicate style, alla musette, finds ample evidence in the middle section.  The G Minor enjoys the advantage of a moderate tempo, not played so fast as to slur the harmonic tensions in its passionate wanderings. The knotty, punishing Paganini Variations receive a through performance – every note, many of which provide Anglelich opportunities to display every kind of keyboard technique in thunderous Technicolor. Variation 19, Book I stand out for its pearly, liquid sonority. Angelich’s double octaves, his startling dynamic shifts, and his pert application of triple versus duple meters proves beguiling. A real demonstration of pianistic bravura, this disc should win Angelich a strong coterie of adherents, some of whom will doubtless ask him to record the Brahms concertos. Good piano sound, the fine balance engineering attributable to Frederic Briant.

–Gary Lemco

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