There is a very famous portrait of Johannes Brahms, a silhouette by Otto Böhler that depicts the aging Brahms in black walking resolutely, accompanied by a curious red hedgehog. Brahms' favourite restaurant was called Zum Roten Igel
- The Red Hedgehog, but Böhler probably meant to highlight Brahms' prickly personality as well.
Brahms and Hedgehog
In his old age, he had a deserved reputation for being caustic, and did not suffer fools lightly. Yet none of this translates into his music.
How can we describe Brahms' music? Lighthearted and playful? Rarely. But on the other hand never bitter or sarcastic. Sad frequently, and sometimes angry. Always introspective, intimate, serious.
Brahms is not well known for his piano music, yet, like his chamber works
it contains some of his best. He originally earned his living playing piano in taverns, and only later in life did his focus shift to composition.
His piano music can be divided conveniently into five groups.
- His early, showy sonatas (Brahms was a young man once too). These are labeled Opus 1 and 2 and span the Classical-Romantic bridge.
- His sets of variations, including the immense and complex Schumann, Handel and Paganini Variations.
- Transcriptions and immitations of baroque compositions, especially the sensitive interpretation of the Bach Chaconne (much more honest than the Busoni version). Listen to it, and then marvel at the fact that it is for left hand alone!
- Short lyric pieces, including his Rhapsodies, Ballades, Romanzes, and Intermezzi, culminating in the magnificent sets of Klavierstücke opus 117-119 near the end of his life.
- And of course the Hungarian Dances, perhaps his best-known piano music, and his least Brahmsian.
I had never heard of Martin Jones before I bought this CD set. He is a Welsh pianist who specialises in late 19th and early 20th century piano music. And specialises, too, in complete works. To date he has recorded for Nimbus the complete solo piano music of Mendelssohn, Debussy (a much praised recording), Grainger, Szymanowski and now Brahms.
Recording complete works like this enables him to really get to know a composer and his style, and the Brahms set is impressive. Technically excellent, without ostentatious showmanship. He plays Brahms the way I imagine Brahms would have liked - serious, but satisfying. Rather than exhausting the listener with theatrics, Jones leaves you wanting more.
Yet, despite the above praise, I must deduct points for the quality of the recording, and hence the rating above. It is quite reverberant, like it was made in a little hall. Some may call this intimate, but to me it sounds a bit hollow. And worst of all, the recording levels are so low that you have to turn the volume controls way up compared to other CD's.
Small niggles indeed, for an otherwise superb cycle. And at $30 for the entire 6 CD box, who's arguing?
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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Complete Piano Music
Sonata No.1 in C, Op.1
- I. Allegro
- II. Andante
- II. Scherzo: Allegro Molto E Con Fuoco
- IV. Finale: Allegro Con Fuoco
- Scherzo in e flat, Op. 4
Sonata No.2 in f#, Op.2
- I. Allegro Ma Non Troppo, Ma Energico
- II. Andante Con Espressione
- III. Scherzo & Trio: Allegro-Poco Piu Moderato
- IV. Finale: Introduzione: Sostenuto-Allegro Non Troppo E Rubato
- Study For The Left Hand (Inpromptu By Schubert, D. 899 No.2)
- Study No.1 (Etude After Chopin, Op.25 No.2)
- Study No.2 (Rondo After Weber, Op.24)
Four Ballades Op.10
- No.1 Andante-Allegro-Andante
- No.2 Andante-Allegro Non Troppo-Andante
- No.3 Intermezzo: Allegro
- No.4 Andante Con Moto-Piu Lento-Tempo I
- Vars On A Theme Of Robert Schumann, Op.9: Theme And Vars I-VI
- Vars On A Theme Of Robert Schumann, Op.9: Vars VII-XVI
Sonata No.3 in f, Op.5
- Allegro Maestoso
- Andante: Andante Espressivo
- Scherzo & Trio: Allegro Energico
- Intermezzo: Andante Molto
- Finale: Allegro Moderato Ma Rubato
- Theme And Vars in d (From The Second Movt Of The Str Sxt, Op.18): Andante, Ma Moderato
- Vars On An Original Theme Op.21, No.1: Theme And Vars I-VII
- Vars On An Original Theme Op.21, No.1: Vars VIII-XI
- Vars On A Hungarian Song, Op.21, No.2: Theme And Vars I-XIII
- Sarabande in A
- Gigue in a
- Sarabande in b
- Gigue in b
Vars And Fugue On A Theme Of Handel, Op.24
- Aria And Vars I-XV
- Vars XVI-XXV
- Vars On A Theme Of Paganini, Op.35: Book I
- Vars On A Theme Of Paganini, Op.35: Book II
- 16 Waltzes, Op.39: I-VIII
- 16 Waltzes, Op.39: IX-XVI
- Hungarian Dances: I. Allegro
- Hungarian Dances: II. Allegro Non Assai
- Hungarian Dances: III. Allegretto
- Hungarian Dances: IV. Poco Sostenuto
- Hungarian Dances: V. Allegro
- Hungarian Dances: VI. Vivace
- Hungarian Dances: VII. Allegretto
- Hungarian Dances: VIII. Presto
- Hungarian Dances: IX. Allegro
- Hungarian Dances: X. Presto
- Gavotte By Chr. W. Gluck
Eight Klavierstucke, Op.76
- I. Capriccio: Un Poco Agitato
- II. Capriccio: Allegretto Non Troppo
- III. Intermezzo: Grazioso
- IV. Intermezzo: Allegretto Grazioso
- V. Capriccio: Agitato, Ma Non Troppo Presto
- VI. Intermezzo: Andante Con Moto
- VII. Intermezzo: Moderato Semplice
- VIII. Capriccio: Grazioso Ed Un Poco Vivace
- Two Rhaps, Op.79: I. Agitato
- Two Rhaps, Op.79: II. Molto Passionato, Ma Non Troppo Allegro
- Study No.5 Chanonne by J.S. Bach)
- Study No.3 (Presto After J.S. Bach, Version 1)
- Sarabande And Two Gavottes
- Kanon (Inverted)
- Study No.4 (Presto After J.S. Bach, Version 2)
- Kleine Klavierstucke
- I. Capriccio: Presto Energico
- II. Intermezzo: Andante
- III. Capriccio: Allegro Passionato
- IV. Intermezzo: Adagio
- V. Intermezzo: Andante Con Grazia Ed Intimissimo Sentimento
- VI. Intermezzo: Andantino Teneramente
- VII. Capriccio: Allegro Agitato
- I. Intermezzo: Andante Moderato
- II. Intermezzo: Andante Non Troppo E Con E Con Molto Espressione
- III. Intermezzo: Andante Con Moto
- I. Intermezzo: Allegro Non Assai, Ma Molto Appassionata
- II. Intermezzo: Andante Teneramente
- III. Ballade: Allegro Energico
- V. Intermezzo: Allegretto Un Poco Agitato
- V. Romance: Andante
- VI. Intermezzo: Andante, Largo E Mesto
- I. Intermezzo: Adagio
- II. Intermezzo: Andantino
- III. Intermezzo: Grazioso E Giocoso
- IV. Rhap: Allegro Risoluto