Johannes Brahms Etudes For The Piano
Pianist Nada and the Message of Brahms
BY JACQUELINE KHAROUF
BRAHMS Etudes: No. 1 in f (after Chopin, op. 25/3); No. 2 in C (after C. M. von Weber’s Rondo, op. 24); No. 3 in g (after Presto from Bach’s Sonata for Solo Violin No. 1); No. 4 in g (after Presto from Bach’s Sonata for Solo Violin No. 1); No. 5 in d for the Left Hand (after Chaconne from Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin No. 2); No. 6 in E♭ for the Left Hand (after Schubert’s Impromptu, op. 90/2 (D 899)) • Pianist Nada (pn) • 4TAY 4073 (Download: 37:15) Reviewed from a WAV download: 44.1 kHz/16-bit
In each of these etudes, Brahms incorporates familiar flavors and thematic sensibilities of several composers that, like him, were interested in the lyrical capacity of the piano. This includes the sweeping rhythm and lyrical luminosity of Chopin; the contrapuntal lines and quite romantic syncopation of Carl Maria von Weber; Bach’s exponentially expansive themes from his Violin Sonata and chaconne; as well as the circular patterning of Schubert’s Impromptu. Nada’s fingerwork—especially in the blisteringly fast pace of Etude No. 3, and the etudes for left hand, Nos. 5 and 6—is absolutely precise and exudes a wonderful juxtaposition between the growing rhythmic demands and lyrical thread of the etudes. Each of these etudes seem briefly to inhabit a kind of what-if position—i.e., what if Brahms composed like Chopin or Bach?—but in any case, we also hear that these etudes are distinctly Brahmsian.
In the way that Nada plays, with the utmost care for each note, the consistency of tone and approach to the instrument, these etudes do not feel like studies or exercises. She is a stalwart for the historical context of these pieces—not only the original pieces that inspired Brahms, but the moments in Brahms’s own life and works when he wrote each etude—and that background knowledge informs her playing. Of the two variations on Bach’s Presto, my favorite must be Etude No. 4, which is so interestingly similar to No. 3, but seems to increase the space between the two hands and to allow the lyrical arc to reach higher, further leaping and interweaving Bach’s already complex lines into more pianistic shapes. Etude No. 4 reminds me somewhat of Bach’s Inventions, constantly finding new threads to unspool and braid. Etude No. 5, arranged for left hand alone, in particular offers Nada the opportunity to express her incredible skill, her stamina, and the magnitude of her energy, as well as her capacity for continually keeping the music fresh and interesting. Playing this etude at a little over 14 minutes long, Nada performs No. 5 quite quickly (compared to some other recording times I found on YouTube) and yet she never seems to waver—on the contrary, she conveys nuance, adjusts to dynamic changes, and brings the etude full circle in following the Chaconne theme.
It is really delightful to hear all of these etudes together in one place, to hear the connections and conversations Brahms must have had with these etudes. Nada brings herself into the conversation in some respect. She performs with the guidance of Brahms, her ultimate challenger and inspiration, but her performance is also fortified by her deep appreciation for the artistry of Brahms’s romantic and lyrical organization. Complete your Nada recordings with this digital-only release of Brahms’s Etudes.
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