BRAHMS: 14 Intermezzi from Op. 76; Op. 116; Op. 117; Op. 118; Op. 119 – Christophe Sirodeau, piano – Melism MLS -CD – 022, 62:33 (5/22/20) [firstname.lastname@example.org] ****:
Christophe Sirodeau (b. 1970) has acquired a reputation for both composition and piano performance, the latter influenced by some ten years’ study with Russian master Eygeny Malinin. Sirodeau’s further studies with pianist Alberto Neuman qualify him as an indirect disciple of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Given the extremely broad range of interpretation of the Brahms piano oeuvre on record, finding a simple characterization of Sirodeau’s playing evades capture, but he does bring a concentrated, often severe, focus into his reading of 14selected and arranged late piano works: the Op. 76 set from the 1870s – rife with homage to Robert Schumann – and the works set down from 1892, when nostalgia and reminiscence, even tender affection, for Clara Schumann could come to the fore without embarrassment or sentimentality. In his accompanying notes, Sirodeau acknowledges the influence of Julius Katchen in his own conception of these highly personal works.
Anton Weber credited late Brahms as an adumbration of his own, intensely personal, concentrated style, and Sirodeau opens with the B Minor Adagio, Op. 119, No. 1. Sirodeau obeys the composer’s injunction to conceive every bar as a ritardando suffused with melancholy. The passing discords struck Clara Schumann as an effect of “grey pearls.” The ensuing Intermezzo in E Minor, Andantino un poco agitato, Op. 119, No. 2 projects an anxious metric design in progressive variations, whose middle section waltz permits some solace. The fragment of the waltz motif that appears at the coda has Sirodaeu’s sighing in a mood that Proust calls “the alabaster of memory.” Sirodeau then presents four of the seven pieces that comprise the 1892 Op. 116: the Adagio in E Major, No. 4, bears a tragic stamp in its apparent simplicity. The sense of spiritual isolation permeates this work, and no less so in the following Intermezzo in E Minor, Op. 116, No. 5, with its specific, rather stealthy, indication Andante con grazia ed intimissimo sentimento. These two pieces form an emotional diptych, free but lonely in their evocation of what Brahms called his “old bachelor music.” The piece seems to deconstruct as it progresses, leaving us a shadow of itself at the coda. The following Intermezzo in E Major, Andante teneramente, Op. 116, No. 6, proffers a martial tune or quasi-hymn that gains stern momentum, only to break into a lyric song of heart-rending beauty. The return to the ‘A’ section tearfully recalls the martial motif and its wistful harmonization. Simoneau concludes this sequence by playing the Intermezzo in A Minor, Op. 116, No. 2, Andante, among those rainy-day, autumnal evocations whose Non troppo presto impulse barely wipes away the inner tears.
Sirodeau then selects two of the Op. 76 set, conceived in the spirit of Robert Schumann’s own Intermezzi, Op. 4. The A-flat Major, Op. 76, No. 3 Grazioso, suggests a tender study in syncopation, three bars against five. Brahms features the high treble for his effect, the keys passing through C minor and D-flat. The Intermezzo in B-flat Major, Op. 76, No. 4, Allegretto grazioso, contains nothing but emotional ambiguity, never fully expressing itself in B-flat Major until the last. Instead, Brahms indulges in a melancholy G Minor reminiscence, with enharmonic excursions into C-flat. A delicate, nervous agitation permeates the music, desperate to hold on to a wraith of memory.
Brahms spoke of his Three Intermezzi, Op. 117 as his “songs of my loneliness,” and they urge a sense of solitude. The Op. 117, No. 1 in E-flat Major, Andante moderato, sounds a plaint based on a Scottish lullaby, marked by repeated E-flats. Sirodeau gives the rocking rhythm a slow hauntedness. The other “rainy-day” Intermezzo in B-flat Major, Andante non troppo e con molto espressione, contests two impulses, a scalar chain of notes against a chordal design. The last of the set, in C-sharp Minor, Andante con moto, has a post-war sensibility cross-fertilized by shades of Kurt Weill. Turbulent and unstable, the piece sounds a dirge for Romanticism. Sirodeau takes this selection a bit quickly for my taste, which has always gravitated to Eugene Istomin’s old CBS recording.
Back to Op. 76 for two more selections: the A Major, No. 6 Andantino con moto swims in agitated syncopes, resonant with arpeggios and glistening, pearly play, despite some dark waters. The Intermezzo in A Minor, Op. 76, No. 7 I first heard from Artur Rubinstein. Marked Moderato semplice, the piece has a funereal gait offeset by rolling arpeggios that never quite feel resolved. Echo effects and passing dissonances add to the nervous tension, though understated, manages to leave us with a sense of longing.
Finally, the much admired Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2, Andante teneramente, a lyric worthy of Mendelssohn in a bitter-sweet mood. At moments, the piece assumes a martial tone, only to relent in sad, balanced phrases permeated with regret.
Recorded 8 March 2019 and produced by Nikolaos Samaltanos, the recording offers a marvelous patina for Sirodeau’s keyboard.
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