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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67550
Recording details: February 2006
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Andrés Villalta
Release date: August 2006
Total duration: 15 minutes 20 seconds

'Consummate musicianship and formidable technical control. The warmth and beauty of tone are never sacrificed even in the most thickly textured writing of the first movement. The Finale in particular is quite dazzling, Hamelin's quicksilver dexterity bringing an effervescent humour and brilliant rhythmic incisiveness to the music' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The Canadian's magisterial technique means that he dispatches with feline ease passages such as the notorious whispering double octaves in the scherzo' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The grand romantic manner comes easily to Hamelin. Modern discipline, too, and his combination of finger power, firm engineering, caressing gentleness and playful wit makes him a natural for Brahms's second piano concerto' (The Times)

'Hamelin makes for a brilliant soloist and fine Brahms interpreter here … the result is one of the more successful and satisfying Brahms Seconds to come down the pike in quite a while … the four Op 119 pieces that fill out the disc are a nice bonus, and played by Hamelin with the caressing tenderness of one who understands the ache of Brahms' winter regret. Strongly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'Hamelin strides forth with a technical magnificence that is glittering and propulsive, but also with a light and shade that directs to the music's inner sanctum' (International Piano)

'Hamelin consistently beguiles the ear … in the scherzo of the concerto, he uses clean rhythm to bring excitement to No 3 without overwhelming the music. His light touch in the first piece emphasizes both its dreaminess as well as its sparse modernity: Schoenberg's famous appellation 'Brahms the progressive' is singularly applicable here. The engineering is up to Hyperion's usual high standard, with ideal balances between piano and orchestra in the concerto … this is an excellent release and an important landmark in Hamelin's evolving discography' (

'Hamelin and conductor Andrew Litton achieve a kind of mind-meld in their reading of the Brahms Second Concerto … this is music-making of the highest order, intensely communicative and attuned to the composer's mastery of narrative form and structure' (The Absolute Sound, USA)

Piano pieces, Op 119

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The predominant character in those pieces Brahms titled ‘Intermezzo’ is reflective, musing, deeply introspective, and at the same time always exploring harmonic and textural effect, rhythmic ambiguity, structural elision and wayward fantasy.

The first three of the four Op 119 Klavierstücke are exactly such Intermezzi. The opening number, in B minor, is a ravishing Adagio which Clara Schumann (the first person to whom Brahms showed most of these late pieces) characterized as ‘a grey pearl’. It derives its material from a chain of falling thirds, a formula which Brahms used in many contexts. The main thematic idea is a downward arpeggio whose individual notes are sustained to form ambiguous vertical harmony, suggesting both B minor and D major, which is the focus of the very slightly contrasted central idea.

The second and third pieces both begin with rhythmic figures involving repeated notes: but whereas in the E minor Intermezzo (marked Andantino un poco agitato) this feature produces a nervous pulse-beat in dactylic rhythm, like a charming stammer, in the C major (Grazioso e giocoso) it produces a skittish 6/8 quaver motion with a nonchalant melody in the middle voice. Also, while the E minor Intermezzo evolves quite a large form, the central section transforming its main idea into an elegant E major waltz, the C major is shorter, with deft touches of humour, capriciously dissolving towards the end into fragile, rainbow-like arpeggios.

In contrast to these gentle Intermezzi the E flat Rhapsodie, Brahms’s last piano piece, is cast in the heroic mould traditionally associated with its key. It has much the same virile manner we encounter in his two Op 79 Rhapsodies, but it is more compressed, creating its form with a freedom and spontaneity appropriate to its late date. As a foil to the principal tune—a muscular, pounding affair in 2/4 time with asymmetrical ‘Hungarian’ five-bar phrasing—it evolves a subsidiary idea of tolling repeated notes with dissonant harmonies beneath, and an echt-Brahmsian second subject in C minor with a powerful triplet rhythm. A contrasting grazioso section is almost a parody of salon style, with its harped chords and tripping grace-notes. Brahms delays the return of the main theme, presenting witty and allusive variations of it. It makes its eventual reappearance at the Rhapsody’s climax, but is almost immediately deconstructed in the coda, which ends this otherwise ebullient work—and Brahms’s piano output—in a stern E flat minor. This, almost certainly not by coincidence, had also been the key of his earliest published piano piece, the Op 4 Scherzo.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2006

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