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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Lieder: Transcriptions for Piano Four Hands
Transcriptions by Christoph Ewers
Carles Lama and Sofia Cabruja (piano duo)
rec. 2016, Auditori Viader, Girona, Spain

I am always perturbed by CD cover designs which, for marketing reasons, present the name of the performers much more prominently than that of the composer whose music is being played, no matter how famous the artists concerned. Of course, the piano duo here is indeed a very eminent and one of thirty years’ standing, and we are perhaps used to compilations entitled “Callas sings…” or “Horowitz plays…” but I would still prefer to the composer to be given precedence over the performer, especially as the music of only one is being presented on this recording.

That said, this is an unusual issue of music in a different guise, which clearly intends to capitalise upon the capacity of the piano to sing like the human voice, rather than draw upon its percussive quality. It is beautifully played; the arrangements conjure up such a range of sonorities that at times I feel that I prefer these arrangements to the originals. Brahms’ Lieder have never attained the popularity or indeed secured the affection bestowed upon Schubert’s; these transcriptions by pianist, conductor and arranger Christoph Ewers, in conjunction with the German texts supplied in the booklet, are designed to help the listener come to a new appreciation of Brahms’ gifts in song.

The music evinces that peculiarly Brahmsian combination of dogged determination and poignant lyricism; he was surely the archetype of the gruff male whose bluff exterior veiled a deep sensitivity. There is drama and lyricism a-plenty here; the emphasis upon the bass line in these arrangements, often combined with a tinkling upper line that balances the textures produced by the two pianos, calls to mind lower-voiced performers of the Four Serious Songs such as Kathleen Ferrier and Kurt Moll or the velvety sound of Janet Baker’s voice in the Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano.

The recorded sound is first-rate and the empathy between the two pianists here creates a remarkable homogeneity and unity of tone and rhythm, they play as one entity with four hands. At under an hour, this is not an especially generous programme but it encompasses such a gamut of moods and tonal colours that the listener will not feel short-changed.

Ralph Moore

Wie bist du, meine Königin, op.32 No.9; Von ewiger liebe, op.43 No.1; Der Gang zum Liebchen, op.48 No. 1; Wiegenlied, op.49 No. 4; Dein blaues Auge, op.59 No.8; Meine Liebe ist grün, op.63 No.5; Da unten im Tale, WoO33 No.6; Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano, Op. 91; Sappische Ode, op.94 No.4; Hochgetürmte Rimaflut, op.103 No.2; Wie Melodien zieht es mir, op.105 No.1; Immer leiser, op.105 No.2; Das Mädchen spricht, op.107 No.3; Vier ernste Gesänge, op. 121 (Four Serious Songs)

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