- Audio CD (Nov 11 1997)
- Number of Discs: 6
- Format: Box set, Import
- Label: Universal Music Group
- ASIN: B0000042GM
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
The fact is: For the most part, the totality of Katchen's vision is unparalled; he has no rival. Even the Naxos "complete" edition of Brahms (with Biret) offers no real competition. Other pianists may offer a tad more depth here or there in one piece or another, but no pianist has played Brahms.... as I believe Brahms would have performed his own piano music. And this is no small compliment to Katchen.
Katchen has captured the essence of Brahms, perhaps his musical soul--- if you allow me a metaphysical moment. Not many pianists are capable of bringing to music the illusion that the composer, himself, might actually be sitting there at the keyboard. Only a meager handful of artists might come to mind.
I was listening to Sonata No. 1 in C, Op. 1 this morning and was amazed at just how fresh and incredibly real his performance is. In such an early work, Brahms has already made his mark, and in Katchen's hands it springs to miraculous life. The first movement Allegro is rugged, insightful, foreshadowing the Op. 5 to come; the second movement Andante is lyrically brooding (with more than a nod to Beethoven) with a wistful quality that goes right to the heart; the impishly demonic Scherzo is daringly original, followed by a breathtaking and propulsive Finale whose glowing trio section disarms in the most unexpected way.
And THAT was only Sonata No. 1 in C!!! Sonata No. 2, Op. 2, normally viewed as a lesser accomplishment, in Katchen's hands is a wonder. And Sonata No. 3, Op. 5, the rarest of Brahms' gems? It is a performance that you will return to over and over again for its power, passion and tenderness.
The eight pieces that form Op. 76 run the gamut from lyrical to quirky to introverted to brusque and, for me, the best set I've ever heard. The two Rhapsodies, Op. 79, are excursions into a sound-world that seems phantasmagorical, other-worldly, wonderous.
The late Brahms works, however, Opp. 116-119, are pieces that explore every nuance of what it means to be human, every emotion, every question. And then some. Katchen plays these as if he had written them himself; as if Brahms were looking over his shoulder. [My only quibble with this set, as with the jewel box edition, is that the Opp. 116-119 are NOT coupled together on one CD--- which they could have easily been, running only 74:11 minutes. To break them apart onto three separate CDs seems aesthetically ludicrous to me; well, more than this. Downright absurd.]
Katchen, as well, gives the Handel Variations, Op. 24 a run for their money. Hair-raising, gentle, virile. As he does the Paganini Variations, Op. 35.
And the Scherzo, Op. 4? Well, just listen to what he does with this!
There can be no better way to immerse yourself in the piano music of Brahms, with no better interpreter of the "complete" solo works. Katchen is the rarest of talents. Oh, sure, his Brahms may have some rough edges; but, then, so did Brahms. And I think the "match" is perfect. For me, there can be no better, and I've heard an earful of Brahms.
The London "sound" has come through miraculously well and much improved on the original vinyls. It is full, rich, quite present and mercifully without an intrusive amount of ambience. A flesh and blood piano.... played by an artist completely "one" with the composer.
Urgently recommended. You will need no other Brahms.
If you have a chance to sample what's here, try the early Scherzo in Eb, Op 4, a wonderfully robust, powerful work, and the late Op 117 Intermezzi - reflective, reposeful works. You'll also find some of the brilliant sets of variations - masterpieces that are fiendishly difficult to play - and the complete sets of waltzes and Hungarian dances.
In addition, the packaging (with individual envelopes for each cd, and each with its own discography) is very convenient. The box of 6 CD's replaces the originally released set of two jewel cases, a very good replacement I believe.
I highly recommend this CD set.