“Before playing Nada in Hamburg – Johannes Brahms (MEII Enterprises 261 43930)…” – WholeNote review

Before playing Nada in Hamburg with Johannes Brahms (MEII Enterprises 261 43930) one has to accept Nada Loutfi’s stylistic premise that the young Brahms played very much lighter pianos while in Hamburg. This would require a distinct departure from conventional approaches. Accents would be shorter, there would be more staccato and a great deal less use of the sustain pedal. Loutfi argues that modern interpretations overload and misrepresent the sound Brahms imagined at the time of these compositions.

As if to underscore her point, she programs two pieces for the left hand, where performers generally tend to pedal more generously in order to bridge the gaps the single hand is to required leap. The Bach Chaconne for the Violin, (Étude No.5) and the Étude for piano for the left hand after Franz Schubert (Étude No.6) both require a moment for the ear to adjust but quickly establish a credibility based on Loutfi’s sensitive and intelligent phrasings. The Schubert, especially, becomes an extraordinarily beautiful technical display.

From Brahms’ Eleven Chorales for Organ Op.122, Loutfi plays No.s2, 4 and 8. The organ score is for manuals alone and the parts so intricately woven that it’s often impossible to solo the chorale over the surrounding accompaniment. Nevertheless Loutfi does a wonderful job using the piano’s dynamic advantage to achieve this very feat.

The Sonata Op.1 No.1 in C Major takes on a very different feel from most other performances. Loutfi’s light detached style quickly becomes the norm and draws more attention to other aspects of her interpretation. Most noteworthy is her very introspective and raptured playing of the second movement, Andante.

This is quite an unusual disc that intelligently challenges some of our conventional ideas about how Brahms should be played.