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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

Piano Works

  • Variations & Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24
  • Piano Pieces, Op. 76
  • #1 Capriccio in F Sharp minor
  • #2 Intermezzo in B minor
  • #3 Intermezzo in A Flat Major
  • #4 Intermezzo in B Flat Major
  • #5 Capriccio C Sharp minor
  • #6 Intermezzo in A Major
  • #7 Intermezzo in A minor
  • #8 Capriccio in C Major
  • Piano Pieces, Op. 118
  • #1 Intermezzo in A minor
  • #2 Intermezzo in A Major
  • #3 Ballade in G minor
  • #4 Intermezzo in F minor
  • #5 Romance in F Major
  • #6 Intermezzo in E Flat minor
Carmen Piazzini, piano
TYXart TXA12011 77 mins
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Argentinian-born, German-based pianist Carmen Piazzini is an artist new to me and probably to many readers, and it is a wonder because she has been on the concert stage since the 1970s and has amassed a fairly sizable discography that includes the complete piano sonatas of Mozart and Haydn, as well as the complete piano concertos of Mozart and Beethoven. In addition, she has also recorded many works by South American and Russian composers. All this activity has apparently gone under the radar, at least under my radar. Piazzini studied with Vincenzo Scaramuzza in Argentina and, from age seventeen, with Wilhelm Kempf and Hans Leygraf in Germany where she emigrated. She was a founding member of the Alvarez Piano Quartet. Beyond this kind of music-resume stuff, there is apparently not much other information on her, like her date of birth, which, by piecing a few facts together, I would surmise to be around 1960. From hearing this disc, recorded in 1991, I can say she is a rare talent, well worth your attention.

In Brahms, I would say Piazzini in many ways is similar to Stephen Kovacevich: she plays with moderate to brisk tempos, imparts a crisp sort of weightiness to much of the music, is precise and spirited, sparing in her use of rubato, and possesses a formidable technique. Yet, for all the muscle she often employs, she can turn sprightly and delicate, and has as many gradations in dynamics in the softer passages as in the louder ones.

The Handel Variations fit her somewhat chameleonic manner perfectly: she captures the shifting moods of the twenty-five variations with an incisive interpretive sense and plays the fugue with a deft awareness of its profound and epiphanic conclusion. Piazzini moves seamlessly from the sprightly character of the second variation to the dreamier one of the third. Her fourth variation comes on with power and stunning virtuosity, as it should. The fifth and sixth variations have the right measure of mystery and delicacy, and the seventh and eighth brim with energy and bright colors, as well as a certain nervosity that effervesces delightfully. And so it goes throughout the work. True, at times Piazzini seems to play with a bit too much staccato or muscle, making parts of the fugue, for example, sound a little mechanical. That said, her fugue is still powerful and quite convincing. Cliburn played it with a less assertive character and was quite excellent, but Piazzini is effective own her own terms.

Piazzini may be even more effective in the Op. 76 Pieces. The B minor Capriccio is light, chipper, bouncy and an utter delight, as Piazzini uses ever so subtle rubato and all manner of dynamics. In the BFlat Major Intermezzo she deftly captures both its dreamy and stormy aspects, and in the A minor Intermezzo the dark lyricism has rarely sounded so beautifully forlorn and desolate.

The Op. 118 Pieces are another success here. Her A major Intermezzo, one of Brahms' loveliest creations, is beautifully phrased and for once not played too slowly, a fault in so many other interpretations. The G minor Ballade is bouncy and crisp and several times nearly reaches an ecstatic pinnacle. The best piece in the collection, that haunting E flat minor Intermezzo, gets a splendid interpretation from Piazzini. The mood is dark, the dynamics hushed at the outset, and the hope that soon comes is so beautifully dashed by Piazzini in big, bold chords that struggle against the inevitable return to the opening lovely gloom.

The sound reproduction on the disc is vivid and powerful. To Brahms and piano music mavens, this will be one disc you'll surely want to acquire. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2013, Robert Cummings