Johannes Brahms: Selected Piano Music
2016 / Centaur Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Johannes Brahms: Selected Piano Music is a collection of twenty-five pieces spanning the full range of Johannes Brahms’ long and illustrious career. Beginning with Op. 1 (Sonata #1 in C Major) through Op. 119 (Klavierstucke), the album gives an excellent overview of Brahms’ piano compositions. Performed by Frank Huang, the music is colorful, expressive and masterfully-played. I recently reviewed Dr. Huang’s recording of Jack Gallagher: Piano Music, and have tremendous respect and admiration for Huang’s versatility and well his brilliant performances. Huang also wrote the liner notes for the album that describe the music as well as what was happening in Brahms’ life when he composed the music. I love these insights and always learn something new from them!
Frank Huang is an Assistant Professor of Piano at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Previously, he served on the faculty at The College of Wooster and The Cleveland Institute of Music. He has performed throughout North America, South America, Europe and Asia. The Seattle, WA native studied at the Academy of Music Northwest before earning his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from The Juilliard School and then his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at The Cleveland Institute of Music. At Miami University, he teaches piano, chamber music, and various literature courses.
The album begins with Piano Sonata #1 in C major, a four movement sonata that was completed when Brahms was twenty. At his friend Johann Joachim’s urging, Brahms met Robert Schumann and performed this sonata for him - a turning point in the young composer’s life. This magnificent sonata covers a full spectrum of emotions and playing styles from smooth and lyrical to thunderous and majestic. Huang’s performance is extraordinary.
Scherzo in Eb Minor, Op. 4 is also very demanding even though the overall mood of the piece is playful and fanciful.
It is interesting to note that Brahms’ Sixteen Waltzes (Op. 39) were originally composed as four-hand piano duets. The popularity of the waltz at the time caused the waltzes to be made available as piano solos. The printed collection I have also includes a simplified edition that appears to have been published at about the same time. Most of these waltzes are comparatively short and cover a broad range of expression and tonal color - and are more accessible to less virtuosic pianists!
Klavierstucke (Op. 119) consists of four relatively short pieces composed in the 1890’s. These pieces are very different from Op. 1, but I was fascinated by the similarity of the opening of the fourth piece and the opening of Op. 1. Brahms wrote to his publisher in 1894 that the last of the folk songs and the theme in Op. 1 represent the snake that bites its tail - “and thus states with pretty symbolism that the tale is finished.” Brahms died in 1897.
Johannes Brahms: Selected Piano Music is a must for fans of classical music, and Frank Huang is a fascinating artist that I look forward to getting to know better. The album is available from Amazon and iTunes. Very highly recommended!
August 3, 2017