Brahms: Complete Piano Music, Vol 4 - Rittner

Brahms: Complete Piano Music, Vol 4 - Rittner

MDG Scene  904 1810-6

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental

Brahms: Scherzo, Op. 4; Waltzes, Op. 39; Klavierstucke, Op. 76; 2 Rhapsodie, Op. 79

Hardy Rittner

Dazzling Debut
What a debut! The Scherzo in E flat minor is the first extant composition by Johannes Brahms, and its profound gloom and bizarre character go beyond even the no-joking-matter models set by Chopin. Hardy Rittner has recorded this rarity on the fourth installment of his historical Brahms series – for the first time on a 240-centimeter Ignaz Bösendorfer grand piano from 1846. The biting tone of this instrument immediately gets under the skin and forms an exciting contrast to the two J. B. Streicher grand pianos.

Piano Passion
The two Rhapsodies op. 79 get things going. Brahms would not have been Brahms if he had not composed these pieces with a compelling formal logic. The second rhapsody bears the heading “Molto passionato,” and Hardy Rittner conjures magnificent passion out of the Streicher grand piano from 1868. In the Piano Pieces op. 76 he spreads out a multicolored kaleidoscope ranging from melancholy to graceful charm and from dancy mirth to eerie gloom - it all is there and can be experienced with special immediacy on this historical instrument.

Tactical Ticket
Brahms composed sixteen waltzes as his ticket to Viennese musical society and dedicated them to the feared critic Eduard Hanslick. This tactic paid off. Hanslick became Brahms’s most glowing admirer (and a decided opponent of the New Germans led by Liszt and Wagner – but that is another story). Hardy Rittner shows why this was so: simple on the surface, these exquisitely crafted waltzes create their own special cosmos of expressive colors with a wonderfully catchy tune, a racy Hungarian piece, and other masterful intricacies in three-four time.

Splendid Surprise
Once again Hardy Rittner surprises us with completely new perspectives on what we all thought we knew all too well. Among other distinctions, two ECHO Klassik prizes document this young star’s rise to the first pianistic ranks. His acclaimed interpretations combine youthful enthusiasm with profound precision. Flawless SACD technique in patented three-dimensional 2+2+2 sound also makes his most recent production a feast for musical gourmets.

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Works (27)
Reviews (1)

Review by John Broggio - August 22, 2013

Another disc of wonderful playing from the hands of Hardy Rittner (with a relative dud from Brahms thrown in!)

This volume of Rittner's survey, if one excludes the sets of variations, completes the solo piano music. The two Rhapsodies Op. 79, the Klavierstucke Op. 76 and the Walzer Op. 39 are all here as is the youthful Scherzo Op. 4. The Scherzo sticks out a mile here for the language Brahms employs both melodically and harmonically is far more in keeping with the early sonatas than the other works on this disc. Rittner tackles the Scherzo (on a 1846 Bosendorfer) with verve and no small amount of virtuosity but no matter how hard he tries (and Rittner tries very hard indeed), the perception remains that this music is markedly less impressive than the effort it takes to perform.

The Waltzes are played (on a Streicher of 1856) with disarming facility and lack of mannerisms, each being granted a pleasing sense of completeness but also convincing as a cycle. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else (except the above mentioned Scherzo) in the cycle, the relatively short decay makes some of the "brighter" pieces sound overly spiky. Rittner still manages to make gems (such as the 15th waltz) sing and make one quite forget that the piano is a percussive instrument.

The disc opens with the 2 Rhapsodies and one is immediately struck by the clarity afforded by Rittner's careful choice of his instruments (each is from the era of the music, so 3 instruments feature on this disc, a 1868 Streicher & Sohn here). The first is played with passion and a pleasing sense of onward momentum in the more turbulent phrases that contrasts with the fitting repose Rittner grants to the more reflective moments. No matter how quickly the notes come, or how loudly, Rittner manages to produce a glorious singing long line in both Rhapsodies. Such traits are followed into the Klavierstucke and these are similarly successful interpretations that marry the contrasts between each piece, melding into a convincing group. Rittner's playing is virtuosity that is entirely self-effacing and a joy to hear that is in no way diminished upon repeated listening.

The sound is very good in general and it is remarkable how well MDG have judged the microphone positions, for there next to no sound from any of pedal mechanism. As anyone who has played this repertoire will attest, the "sustain" pedal gets a good workout but these instruments give absolutely nothing away except in the noise from the strings not being damped; just as it should be!

To sum up? The Scherzo is a poor relation musically to the rest of the programme and whilst Rittner makes the best possible case for the work on a period piano, I can't imagine this being a key selling point for anyone except the most ardent Brahmsian. The rest though is fabulous in every possible way and must make for (another) firm recommendation in Rittner's discography.

Copyright © 2013 John Broggio and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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