Barry Douglas is a scintillating pianist, one of the truly great virtuosos. I heard him recently breathe new life into Rachmaninov's 2nd piano concerto and it was not an experience I'm likely to forget. He has the most amazing technical resources, but beyond this, and more important, a tremendous feeling that comes across in great waves of emotion. This applies equally to this first instalment of his Brahms cycle, where the power allied to a sense of the architecture of the music would in themselves make the recording worth hearing, but it is what he gets into the notes that fully brings them to life. The pick-and-mix approach is very pleasing, refusing to straightjacket the music by presenting it like a catalogue; and the final Handel Variations have a sense of cumulative exhilaration that makes you think: THIS IS IT!! That rare thing, an experience of the music that is strong enough to make you forget all cares and anxiety and just live totally in the present moment!
on 25 March 2014
The running order of tracks on this recording give the impression of a live concert performance, rather than a staid recording session. The beauty of Brahms later pieces steal the show here - Douglas manages to capture the wistful yearning of a comtemplative man looking back on his life with some profound regret - "Frei aber einsam". Brahms later works including his mellow clarinet pieces are to be treasured, and Barry Douglas has allowed us a glimpse into Brahms soul. His Brahms and Schubert recording projects are daunting in their complexity, but I feel sure they will be deeply rewarding.
on 30 March 2016
No artist has all the answers when it comes to surveying repertoire such as this but Barry Douglas comes closer than most. Like many, I have admired the recordings by Stephen Bishop Kovacevich (now Stephen Kovacevich) for many years and still rate them very highly. Likewise, more recent recordings of late Brahms by Markus Groh and Nicholas Angelich have some very special moments and are worthy of exploration by those seeking alternative readings of the late works. If I had to choose just one artist however, I think it would be Douglas.
This is playing and interpretation of a very high order. Douglas' sense of the architecture of these works is apparent from the outset and both his tonal and dynamic range throughout are beautifully handled. In some of the works, one feels that they are being encountered for the very first time, such is the freshness of the playing. One reviewer here got it right when they said that we were allowed a "glimpse into Brahms' soul". I quite agree, just sample the A Major Intermezzo from Op.118.
The recording is exemplary and Chandos tell us the venue was West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge. It's a superb acoustic, very live and able to deliver every nuance of the Steinway. We are also told the serial number of the piano and the name of the technician who prepared it for those who like such details. I would have been interested to know what microphones were used on the sessions.
In his booklet note, Douglas says "I treasure every phrase. I love every note." That is clearly evident from this recording.
Can't wait to hear the remaining volumes in the series.