BRAHMS: Hungarian Dances, WoO 1; Klavierstuecke, Op. 76; Walzer, Op. 39 – Cedric Tiberghien, piano – Harmonia mundi

by | Sep 5, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: Hungarian Dances, WoO 1; Klavierstuecke, Op. 76; Walzer, Op. 39 – Cedric Tiberghien, piano – Harmonia mundi HMC 902015, 71:14 ****:

Recorded April 2008 at the Teldex Studio, Berlin, this all-Brahms recital opens with the ten Hungarian Dances Brahms published in 1869, originally for piano four hands but subsequently arranged by him for virtuoso two-hand realization. Having worked with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi (1828-1898), Brahms became familiar with csardas style and its kin that would color his music throughout his creative life. The ever-popular No. 5, Bela Keler’s Memories of Bartfal, receives a stunningly resonant rendition, and we might recall Charlie Chaplin’s choreographed shave to it in The Great Dictator.  Pianist Tiberghien (b. 1975), a graduate of the Paris Conservatory and pupil of Dmitri Bashkirov, Leon Fleisher, Gyorgy Sebok, and Alexis Weissenberg, packs plenty of digital firepower to legitimize our reception of him as Fleisher’s true heir in Brahms, especially when we fondly recall how much Fleisher’s old Epic version of the Op. 39 Waltzes struck us forty years ago. Tiberghian, too, relishes the long line and flashy glissando, the arched arpeggios and glitzy trills that make Brahms a Liszt clone despite himself. Muscle and panache hurry us along through the last four dances with gusty, glittery zeal. No piano company is listed, but the engineering of the crystalline, pearly play, and metrically angular, antiphonal voicing by Martin Litauer shimmers at every glib roulade.

The Eight Klavierstuecke of 1878 project a Brahms of a more melancholy, soberer cast, the forms reminiscent of Schumann’s dual-personality character pieces. Even a Brahms capriccio yearns to express itself in sonata-form, only reluctantly accepting its ternary nature. The second of the set, forever inscribed in the memory by Artur Rubinstein, finds in Tiberghien sweet, crisp dalliance. Its final page, rife with three-hand effects, quietly dazzles us with bittersweet dewdrops. The first two intermezzi of the set look ahead to Debussy, even as they gently cascade in nostalgia, the performance most reminiscent of Miklos Schwalb’s and Walter Gieseking’s splendid touch in these pieces. Anyone remember how delicious were teacher Bashkirov’s rendition of the Schumann Intermezzi, Op. 4? The third Capriccio could be mistaken for a passionate Chopin Scherzo, its thunder and thick agitation barely tempered by its introspective trio. The Intermezzo marked Andante con moto (No. 5) communicates a darkly ballad-like musical progression, its middle section a Chopin nocturne. The bardic last Intermezzo (Moderato semplice) was another Rubinstein staple, its drooping melancholy rolling out in balanced phrases, the sequences of notes varying by half-steps.  The final Capriccio–the longest, most poetically bereaved of the set–communicates a nervous insistence, Brahms railing against his old bachelor fate.

The set of sixteen Waltzes (1865) betray Brahms a victim of Vienna’s eternal allure, plus the fact that Brahms had inherited an edition of Schubert’s collected piano works. Folk idiom, Schumann, and Hungarian melos each inform the set of charming, often pungent waltzes in its own way. Agogic shifts, sudden changes of voice and registration, wide chromatic leaps, all conspire to make the technical virtuosity hide itself behind the mask of  good-natured Viennese smiles. The Vivace (No. 6) waltz rings inside one’s head like a gorgeously modulated set of bells. No. 7 wants to dissolve the distinction between waltz, polka, and siciliano.  No. 8 must have stolen away from the Handel Variations. Nos. 9-11 belong to and trip lightly out of Schumann’s Op. 26 Carnival-Jest from Vienna. No. 12 is another Hungarian refugee from the Op. 24 Handel set, followed hard upon by a Schubertian march-scherzo. The Hungarian dervish No. 14 would attach itself to the Violin Concerto if it could. The lovely A-flat Waltz lulls us does the composer’s own Wiegenlied or Chopin’s Prelude in A Major. The last waltz is a Schumann epilogue, the Brahms equivalent of The Poet Speaks from Kinderszenen.  Quite a fine Brahms set, this CD.

–Gary Lemco

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