Classical CD Reviews

BRAHMS: Seven Fantasias; Six Klavierstuecke; Four Klavierstuecke; Sixteen Waltzes – Elizabeth Rich, p. – Connoisseur Society

The Elizabeth traversal of Brahms piano works from 2006 re-emerges, still in gorgeously sympathetic colors and intelligent poetry.

Published on October 22, 2012

BRAHMS: Seven Fantasias; Six Klavierstuecke; Four Klavierstuecke; Sixteen Waltzes – Elizabeth Rich, p. – Connoisseur Society

BRAHMS: Seven Fantasias, Op. 116; Six Klavierstuecke, Op. 118; Four Klavierstuecke, Op. 119; Sixteen Waltzes, Op. 39 – Elizabeth Rich, piano – Connoisseur Society CD 4267, 79:55 [Distr. by Sony] ****:

Originally recorded by E. Alan Silver and Connoisseur Society in 2006, this fine recital of Brahms by Elizabeth Rich captures her elegant intimacy on the Yamaha CFIIIS.  The Rich approach has virility and warmth, truth and poetry. The late works (c. 1890-1893) present the interpreter with issues of voicing and balance, problems Ms. Rich seems to have solved via her close reading of the texts by way of Schenker analysis. The performances, however, do not bog down in a slough of intellectual over-dramatization and pregnant pauses. The three capriccios in the set of Op. 116 move with dynamism and authority, the typical clusters of thirds and syncopes in the Brahms “formulae” neither glib nor over-ripe. The general sense of texture Rich preserves while basking in the colors of late Brahms chromaticism. The intermezzi, with their influence in Schumann, move introspectively, particularly the lovely A Minor, the second piece of the Op. 116. The triptych of intermezzi in E (major and minor) border on nocturnes in their melancholy song, in which even the major mode contains a tragic lilt, like the aria Orpheus sings for his lost Eurydice by way of Gluck. The final D Minor Capriccio, tying in with the first, offers a sense of dramatic closure at once resonant and valedictory.

The Brahms art of compression continues in the Op. 118 set, whose opening A Minor Intermezzo sets the tone of emotional ambiguity and internal strife. The drooping thirds occasionally surge in rebellion against an implacable sense of fate. Perhaps the most lovely of the set, the A Major Intermezzo more than nods to the spirit of Schumann, moving to both F-sharp Minor and F-sharp Major, the latter in canon. Among the most developed of the intermezzi, its gossamer textures allow Rich to explore her own palette and pearly play in intimate evocations of personal nostalgia. The G Minor Rhapsody first compelled my attention through the pianistic efforts of Walter Gieseking, whose restraint and sense of architecture Rich recaptures, a bit more broadly. The B Major central section offers a  pearly song of its own, and the transition back to the da capo Rich executes with easy grace. The intricate F Minor Intermezzo moves in and out of canons, most insistent and eerily introspective until a moment of passion erupts under Rich in exquisite tones that seem to recall Schumann’s Op. 28 Romanzen. The Romance in F Major that succeeds seems natural enough, but its stately demeanor and gentle, timbrel-laden trio point to a Lydian moment in Debussy’s shifting metrics. The No. 6, an E-flat Intermezzo of intense dramatic power, has proved compelling when played by pianists as diverse as Rubinstein, Malcuzynski, and Gieseking. Harmonic inversions and martial rhythms in three – an anomaly Brahms favors in Ein deutsches Requiem - invest this titanic character piece with a grandeur we might expect in a full sonata movement. Rich closes the piece with quiet but still unnerving possibilities.

The Four Pieces of 1893 open with the most forward-looking Intermezzo in B Minor: think Schoenberg. Passing dissonances in ritards create an askew beauty, what Clara Schumann called “a gray pearl.” Rich catches the subtle melancholy agitation of the E Minor Intermezzo, the most lovely of the set, and a particular favorite of Artur Rubinstein. The middle section has the sad lilt of a forgotten Viennese waltz, one of Liszt’s ideas of a valse oubliee. Another Rubinstein specialty, the C Major Intermezzo plays cogently with notes A and G, grazioso e giocoso, Italian good-naturedly. Rich makes its quirky liquid movement acquire a decided momentum before it dissolves in an impish cascade. Rich takes the Rhapsody in E-flat Major with an ominous marcato, a bit stentorian. But she imbues the work with a grand girth and Hungarian ethos that even smacks of the Beethoven Fifth motif that haunted his old Sonata Op. 1. Overly introspective or simply too slow, the middle section seems mannered. But the fateful building up to the martial C Major achieves a clarion ringing that portents later Ravel. The coda’s knotty skips and metrics allow the bravura in composer and player a happy conjunction of talents.

The set of 16 Waltzes, Op. 39 (1865) have had their fine inscriptions via Carl Seemann, Julius Katchen, and Leon Fleisher, among others. Eminently Schubertian, they flow in ceaseless melody and elegance of line, their binary structure rarely interrupted by anything like “development.” Rich plays them for their immediate appeal and occasional dance of colored texture. The No. 6 involves sparkling metrics, and several indulge in Hungarian languor. After the ubiquitous A-flat Waltz, the set ends on a note a Viennese melancholy in double counterpoint.  Parting is such sweet sorrow. . .

—Gary Lemco




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