Instrumental Choice, BBC Music Magazine
Editor’s Choice, Limelight
“Eine vorzügliche Aufnahme… Spieltechnisch allererster Klasse.” Pianonews; “Brahmsians will want to hear this latest milestone in interpretation of his piano music. Others will also relish this superb disc, representing the original thinking and expert playing of an artist in the full blossom of maturity. Highly recommended.” International Record Review
On a first disc dedicated to Johannes Brahms’s solo piano music (released in December 2012), Jonathan Plowright performed two monumental works: the Handel Variations and Piano Sonata No.3. In terms of duration, the Second Piano Sonata which opens the current disc is scarcely less impressive, with a playing time of almost 30 minutes. It is the work of a young man eager to make his mark both as pianist and composer: virtuosic, tempestuous and often not especially Brahmsian. But there are signs of what was to come, for instance in the slow second movement; inspired by the text of a medieval troubadour song and cast in Brahm’s much-loved variation form, it testifies to his enduring interest in the musical traditions of the past. Of the remaining works on the disc, the Scherzo was actually composed before the Sonata, in 1851, while the Op.21 Variations probably saw the light of day not much later, possibly around 1855. The Variations seems in part to have been an exercise which Brahms set himself in order to perfect his command of the form, but is at the same time a searching creation of considerable poetry. The introspective quality in Op.21 is one that returns in Brahms’s last works for the piano, including the Three Intermezzi, published in 1892, and probably composed not long before that date. At once one of the darkest and most beautiful of Brahms’s late piano works, the set seems to have had an especially personal significance for him, and he once referred to it as ‘The lullaby of all my griefs’. Recommending the previous instalment, a critic on the German public radio broadcaster Radio Bremen described the combination of Jonathan Plowright and Johannes Brahms as ‘a British-German dream team’. His counterpart in BBC Music Magazine found ‘tremendous warmth, plus an intimate atmosphere’ in the performances, qualities that certainly come to the fore on this second disc in the series.