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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Hungarian Dances - four hands (1-10, 1868; 11-21, 1880)
Steven and Stijn Kolacny (Steinway D piano)
rec. DSD, Galaxy Studios, Mol, Belgium, 28 March 2002
2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround SACD tracks, 2.0 stereo CD tracks.
Notes in Nederlands, Français, English, and Deutsch.  Photos of artists and composer.
ETCETERA KTC 5250 [52.27]
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Comparison Recordings:
Silke-Thora Matthies, Christian Köhn. Naxos 8.553140
Julius Katchen, Jean-Pierre Marty. Decca 430 053-2
It was this music that made Johannes Brahms a rich man. Those days were long before our current draconian copyright laws. He was then free to write this “Hungarian music” consisting of arrangements of nightclub tunes composed by “Gypsy” performers. Today he would have been sued and forced to share his royalties in ruinous proportion.  Popular music it is, and it should be played with the maximum fun and flourish, which is what we have here, recorded with brilliant detail in SACD surround sound.  As is usually the case , the CD tracks are also of excellent quality for those not owning SACD players (though there is the occasional exception which I remarked up on in other reviews).
It was the very unauthentic nature of these tunes coupled with their immense popularity that motivated Kodaly and Bartok to research the real, Hungarian folk music and enshrine it in their music.  And although Brahms publicly distanced himself from Liszt and the “music of the future” it was Liszt’s own Hungarian Rhapsodies that pointed his way.  Those works were so difficult that only virtuosi could play them, whereas Brahms’ works were within the reach of amateur pianists.
The other versions listed are also excellent in their own way, but simply don’t have the drive, the verve, the fun of this version.  The Katchen/Marty version in particular is in dated sound.  The Matthies/Köln version is part of their fascinating and revelatory complete transversal of the Brahms two piano music; but a perspective based on complete knowledge of an oeuvre is in this case not an advantage because these dances are utterly unique in Brahms’ catalogue.  A future musicologist would easily argue that Brahms did not and could not have written them, which would count all the more against Brahms in any hypothetical plagiarism suit.
Brahms’ character was complex, to say the least.  He was a baroque scholar, was capable of exquisite classical refinement, yet his symphonies are full of primal screams, and he was heard by a friend to be howling like a dog while improvising at he piano.  In this situation we need to expand the envelope, that is, we need this utterly uninhibited performance to stand against the image of the conservative classicist to round out our picture of this vastly great musical personality.  When he subscribed to the Bach Gesellschaft publication fund, he listed his profession simply as “tonkunstler” — musician.
Paul Shoemaker



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