“This all-Brahms recital by a Lebanese master reveals an artist with a real affinity for the composer’s style.” – Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition

by Audiophile Audition/ August 14, 2016/ Classical CD Reviews

This all-Brahms recital by a Lebanese master reveals an artist with a real affinity for the composer’s style.

“Nada in Hamburg with Johannes BRAHMS” = Variations on a Hungarian Theme, Op. 21, No. 2; Chaconne for Solo Violin (arr. left hand) from J.S. BACH: Partita No. 2; Chorales, Op. 122 No. 2: Schmuecke dich, o liebe Seele”; No. 4: “O wie selig seid ihr doch, ihr Frommen”; No. 8: “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen”; Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major, Op. 1; Etude No. 6 for the Piano, Left Hand (after SCHUBERT) –  Nada Loutfi, p. – MEII, 64:33 [www.eugenemarlow.com] ****:

Lebanese virtuoso Nada Loutfi emigrated from war-torn Beirut to Paris, where she won First Prize from the Paris Conservatory. Further study with Gyorgy Sebok at Indiana University further refined her style. She hosts and performs on her own radio program, “The Classical Hour,” on Crescenthillradio.com out of Louisville, Kentucky.

This all-Brahms recital (performed on a Yamaha instrument) derives from a session at the TNT Studios 29 January 2016. Nada opens with the 1853 Variations on a Hungarian Song, a tune the violinist Eduard Remenyi gave to Brahms that consists of a mere eight bars. Typical of gypsy style, the theme moves in mixed rhythm, ¾ and 4/4, and Brahms exploits the metric alternation. Brahms also likes to alter major and minor, since the first several variations lie in d minor, but move to major in increased dynamics. The music will later move into duple time after Brahms abandons the original mixed metrics. Of the set, No. 5, gorgeously enunciated by Nada, has a distinctly “gypsy” feeling, moving in both hands in triplets and a rest on the third beat. The original Hungarian tune seems to have been lost for some time, but it emerges at the finale, harmonized and jubilant.

The Chaconne from the Bach d minor Partita has mesmerized the imagination of musicians after Bach, given its power of unity-in-variety, literally 64 consecutive variations that embrace a full spectrum of moods, styles, dynamics, colors, and polyphonic voices, all in the service of some huge, cathedral-like arch.  Brahms took it upon himself to adapt the piece for piano, left hand only, in 1877, dedicating his effort to Clara Schumann. Brahms noted, “The Chaconne is in my opinion one of the most wonderful and incomprehensible pieces of music. Using the technique adapted to a small instrument the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I could picture myself writing, or even conceiving, such a piece, I am certain that the extreme excitement and emotional tension would have driven me mad.”  Nada manages the extreme tensions of the work – here compressed into the five fingers of the left hand – with liquid grace, the moments of reserved intimacy played against the sudden eruptions of grandeur and dark passion.

If the Chaconne alerts our sense of mortality, the three 1896 Chorales – here transcribed for piano – project a piously sweet sensibility, tranquil and devout. Each plays in about two minutes, and they convey, perhaps ironically, a “mysticism” that the composer rarely addressed anywhere in the canon of his works. Given his secular outlook, Brahms held reservations about “religious” matters, although a spiritual side to his nature cannot be denied. The last of the set here intoned by Nada resembles the Op. 117, No. 1 Intermezzo in its direct simplicity of utterance. While the label claims “First recording on piano,” this is not the fact – Elly Ney used to perform them in selected excerpts.

The 1853 Op. 1 Sonata in C Major often declaims in the manner of the Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata. Brahms meant the work to impress the Schumanns with its bold power and compositional erudition, which it did. The aggressive first movement likes to alternate C Major with B-flat Major, the latter Beethoven’s home key for Op. 106. The secondary theme, quite expressive, claims e minor as its key.

The development sections claims more of Beethoven, with disturbing tensions in c minor. Nada evokes a marvelous pearly play when she desires, and the effect lightens the composer’s often heavy scoring. Brahms thought to set an old medieval love-song as his second movement, Andante, but the attribution of “Minneliede” proves incorrect. The three variations, in major, allow Nada a plastic vehicle for her own lyric gifts. Attacca to the Scherzo movement in e minor, a furious ride Brahms would repeat for his Op. 4 but not again until his final symphony’s third movement. The thumping bass wants to claim the Beethoven Fifth for its own. The Trio moves away from 6/8 to ¾ and a gentler disposition. Nada does nice work with the undulating patterns, the music’s moving from C Major into a slightly polyphonic c minor. Jabbing chords and metric shifts describe only a part of the physical demands the composer makes here in the service of his sturm und drang sentiments. For his Finale, Brahms creates a massive rondo in the Beethoven style, moving from 9/8 to 6/8 time. The various punctuations and rolling chords merely ornament materials from the first movement, so that Brahms can claim a piece of Beethoven’s “cyclic” legacy. The melody that emerges bears a trace of Schumann – or one of Beethoven’s “Scottish” songs – in its sentiment. Brahms gives us a series of ‘false’ recapitulations by altering the key of the rondo theme. Brahms wants his Coda played fervently: Presto non troppo ed agitato, and Nada complies in bold style.

Brahms wrote a six-minute etude for left hand on Schubert’s Op. 99 Impromptu in E-flat Major, and much of its sounds like Leopold Godowsky’s work.  Nada makes the work sing in an unbroken manner that immediately suggests  she should move to a certain concerto by Maurice Ravel.

—Gary Lemco