> Martha Argerich presents Evgheny Brakhman [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Martha Argerich presents Evgheny Brakhman
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Sonata No.10 in C major, KV.330
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op.31 No.2 Tempest
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Piano Sonata in B minor, S178
Evgheny Brakhman (piano)
Recorded at Radio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, December 2001
EMI 7243 5 67935 2 1 [71.55]


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As is the way with modern marketing, Argerich’s name appears as boldly as Brakhman’s on this debut disc from yet another stunning young Russian virtuoso. Fair enough; the record companies have to try somehow to attract our attention to what is, after all, a recital of very well trodden territory. In fact what strikes me, on initial acquaintance with this artist, is playing of exceptional clarity and lucidity, light years away from Argerich’s volatile impetuosity, perhaps more akin to a young Perahia. In one so young (20 when this was recorded) this is admirable, though it does have its drawbacks in music as emotionally wide-ranging as some of the works here.

Brakhman’s slightly cool, detached but very musical style of phrasing is probably best suited to the Mozart. This marvellous sonata, published in 1784, is the most extrovert of a set of three, and displays a brilliance and energy that would fully show off the young Mozart’s keyboard skills. So it does with Brakhman, and the crystalline clarity of his scales and ornaments are something to marvel at. The finale’s triplet figurations and Alberti bass really are superbly steady – any budding pianist will know just how deceptively difficult these common classical devices really are.

Beethoven’s spuriously titled ‘Tempest’ sonata is less completely successful. I like his pacing of the difficult first movement, and his very precise placing of the syncopated sforzando accents. The finale is also brought off well, with the tricky broken chords at 2.43 well handled. The problem lies in the great slow movement, which is a shade under-characterised. The drum-roll-like accompaniment, for instance at 5.50, simply lacks mystery, and turning to some of the competition is not particularly kind to Brakhman. Richard Goode, on a highly recommendable Nonesuch cycle, manages to convey greater depth and emotion in this profound music. Similarly, Solomon’s classic reading on EMI is a model of spiritual insight. Still, there is much to enjoy in the sheer unaffected nature of Brakhman’s performance, and at least he does not impose his own ego on the music.

Liszt’s monumental one-movement B minor Sonata, however, does need something of an ego to make it fully convincing. What we get, once again, are the notes, pure and simple, and in the many long, intensely personal passages in this piece, that is not enough. The opening, once again, lacks any of the anticipation of a great journey about to be undertaken. The technique is certainly secure, and the fabulous double octaves towards the end are breathtaking in their precision and bravura. But this is a forward-looking masterpiece, and the structure and contrast need to be clearly defined. Of the many versions in my collection, the current favourites are Zimerman (on DG), Argerich herself (also on DG, at mid-price), and, best of all, Richter, on stunning form and superbly coupled with the two concertos (mid-price Philips). It may sound like a cliché, but I’m sure the wisdom of age and experience do bring benefits in music such as this. Richter’s technique may be fallible in places (it is live, and sounds un-edited), but such is his grip on the extremes of contrast and mood changes within the chameleon-like structure, that the listener simply has to submit and be a participant until the very last note sounds, and the great circle is closed. This is surely the mark of a great performance, though Brakhman’s musical intelligence and technique are such that he will almost certainly reach that standard one day.

So, all in all, much to admire, if ultimately falling short of the very best, especially given the incredibly severe competition in the Liszt and Beethoven. The recording is good, though so closely balanced that the piano’s damper mechanism is clearly audible through most of the recital.

Tony Haywood


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