Editor’s Choice, Gramophone
Critical acclaim for Jonathan Plowright's two previous discs in his series of Brahms’s works for solo piano includes distinctions such as ‘10/10’ on the website Classics Today and top marks in Diapason as well as ‘Instrumental Choice of the Month’ in BBC Music Magazine. On his third disc Plowright presents the listener with two seemingly contradictory aspects of Johannes Brahms: the deeply serious, emotionally charged, but also meticulously constructed late Piano Pieces of Op. 118 and their precursor Op. 76 appear side by side with the unapologetic extroversion and scintillating verve of most (if not all) of the 16 Waltzes Op. 39, and the flamboyant Variations on a Hungarian Melody. Brahms’s fascination with Hungarian gypsy music stemmed from his friendship with the violinist Eduard Reményi, and found an outlet in several works, among which the Hungarian Dances are probably the most famous. The composer was also a friend and admirer of Johann Strauss II, and in his Op. 39 trespassed – with great success – into the domains of Vienna's 'Waltz King'. It is tempting to think that Brahms early experience as a pianist in taverns and restaurants induced him to compose this sophisticated light music, but there were also commercial reasons: he composed the waltzes for piano four hands and subsequently made no less than two arrangements for solo piano of the entire set.