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Brahms Opus 118

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by MarkB, Jul 13, 2009.

  1. MarkB

    MarkB Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hello All,

    Here is my attempt at the Brahms Opus 118 series.

    Many people believe that these pieces were written as individual pieces and that the series was not intended to be played as a whole. I'm not sure about that and I prefer to play and listen to them as a whole.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy them :) I recorded them at home in my living room.

    Regards
    Mark

    Brahms - Klavierstucke Op.118 - 1: Intermezzo ( 01:50 )
    Brahms - Klavierstucke Op.118 - 2: Intermezzo ( 05:34 )
    Brahms - Klavierstucke Op.118 - 3: Ballade ( 03:45 )
    Brahms - Klavierstucke Op.118 - 4: Intermezzo ( 03:28 )
    Brahms - Klavierstucke Op.118 - 5: Romanze ( 04:04 )
    Brahms - Klavierstucke Op.118 - 6: Intermezzo ( 06:02 )
     
  2. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    I've uploaded these to the site and will listen to them tomorrow, before putting them up. From the brief snatches I heard, this sounds like a very good job.
     
  3. MarkB

    MarkB Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thanks Chris.

    It seems these days (astonishingly) that Brahms' greatness is being doubted, especially in the UK.

    It seems that critics here have become very fond of the comment from the British composer Benjamin Britten who said that he played some Brahms each year just to remind himself how bad it was ! He obviously didn't play any of the late piano pieces Op 116, 117, 118 and 119 which are truly great works.

    Hopefully, the critics will discover the error of their ways (Britten, sadly, will not of course).

    Regards
    Mark
     
  4. sarah

    sarah New Member

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    I agree, Brahms' music is nothing short of amazing... his compositions remind me somewhat of the complexity of Bach in a Romantic suit.

    I had only enough time to listen to your first three recordings, so I hope the other three pieces will not have any hurt feelings. :D I am sure that they are equally well-done. I also hope you will not consider me presumptuous to give some detailed feedback on the recordings I listened to... indeed beautiful music, and generally well-played. I didn't listen with the score, so I hope I'm not too confusing since I didn't insert any measure numbers. :D

    No. 1 - I like the spacings you give to this piece. I think you could make your crescendos more effective if you crescendo "all the way to the top," not leveling out until you reach the peak; I believe this would be especially true about the sections leading up to the main theme.

    No. 2 - I have very strong feelings about this work, so I hope that I am not too picky here. :D Personally, I like it a bit faster, but that's simply opinion; I do like the fact that you kept the tempo pretty even, though. Between the first two phrases and the immediately following repeat, a little "breath" seems called for here. In the crescendo that follows (in my head I see it at the end of the first page and into the second - I think your music is probably laid out the same way), you might want to get a better crescendo going - think big! Even a slight stretto would be appropriate here. The last part of the "A" section, the 'con animato" part, ought to be a little faster than the previous music, I think. You definitely don't want to give a sense of redundancy. That's part of the challenge of this piece - making it not sound redundant, even though some ideas are repeated multiple times. I liked the way the "A" part "died away." In the duet section before the chordal part, remember that the left-hand part, although it should be brought out, must remain subservient to the lyrical melody that soars above it. You also might want to subdue the left-hand part of the chordal section so that the melody sings better - definitely a challenge in this thick-textured part. The ritard was very pretty here at the end of the chordal part. After that section, get after the crescendo! I think that part is the climax of the work, what Rachmaninoff would call "The Point." Don't be timid in the Rf's; that's exciting stuff. One last suggestion to this piece... build to a pretty big crescendo before the "dying away" at the end of the work - it will give your ending more punch.

    No. 3 - I definitely like the rhythmic zing you've got going here. Again, you might want to make more of the dynamic contrasts. Maybe a bit more lyricism would be appropriate in the middle section (starts about 1:30) - it's supposed to be a more tender contrast to the first part. The return to the "A" section needs to be "big stuff." In this piece you seemed to do better at that in some places more than others.

    Thank you very much for sharing this - it's some of my favorite of Brahms' work, and I'm sure many others at PS feel the same way about this beautiful music. I wish you much more great music-making!
     
  5. MarkB

    MarkB Member Piano Society Artist

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    Sarah,

    thank you for the interesting comments. I hope you get the chance to listen to the other 3.

    I find that number 2, despite it being technically straightforward, is very difficult to balance because of the combination of the contrasting and similar sections. The nature of the piece makes it easy to get carried away with onseself and I deliberately set out to avoid that as I feel that too much sentiment can hide the real emotional content. That's the reasoning behind the even tempo.

    Regarding the Rfs, I feel that Rfs are similar to Beethoven's Sfs and should be played relatively rather than absolutely, i.e. in relation to the previous dynamic, in this case a pianissimo, hence why I only played them with emphasis rather than very loudly. Only an opinion, however. I note your comments.

    There is a tremendous amount of detail in these pieces, more than I imagined having listened to them many times, and finding the right balance is very difficult. However, they are worth the study.

    Thanks again for the comments.

    Regards
    Mark
     
  6. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    These are very acconplished recordings. You have the full measure of Brahms' multy-layered writing, and it's clear that you have studied these intricate pieces very well. Technically I can't fault any of these, not having spotted a single wrong note (but I listened without score). A couple of remarks:

    I agree with sarah that the famous no.2 could sing out more. It sounds just a bit literal.
    Same IMO, to a degree, for the Romanze which could be a bit more rapt.
    The Ballade could do with a bit more sonority and weight, it sounds more like a scherzo here.
    The martial middle section of the last one seems rather on the slow side.
    In a couple of places you keep the pedal down a bit too long, creating an impresionistic blur.

    All these are very minor niggles though. It's agreat achievement to record this set with such consistent high quality.

    Brahms neglected ? I don't think so.... at least not in these quarters. I did not know about this remark by Britten (a composer which I hugely admire). Great and original composers are frequently derisive of other composers - Britten also stated that his lessons with John Ireland had been all but useless. And ofcourse, everybody has his black spots.
     
  7. MarkB

    MarkB Member Piano Society Artist

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    Chris,

    thanks for your kind comments. They are very welcome on a day when I have just lost my job ! Oh well.

    When I re-learnt the pieces a few months ago I didn't expect to spend so much time on them but it has been very rewarding.

    The balancing of the multi-layering that you refer to is a real challenge with so many possible permutations.

    I agree with you on the Ballade. I think that the limitations in my technique meant that overcoming the technical difficulties took precedence.

    I like Benjamin Britten too. I always feel it is a shame he didn't write more piano music.

    Thanks again.

    Mark
     
  8. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Dammit, that is bad... Do you have a good chance to get another one ?

    I don't believe you are short on technique, and actually this Ballade is not so terribly difficult by Brahmsian standards. You just need to live a little more dangerously with this, and really dig into the keys.

    Indeed. I had plans with the Holiday Diary some time ago but got distracted. So much to do, so little time.....
     
  9. juufa72

    juufa72 New Member Piano Society Artist

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    I hate to be the nay-sayer: I think his major works (symphonies, concerti, Ein deutches Reqieum, chamber music etc.) are amazing works, however, his solo compositions have yet to hold my attention.
     
  10. sarah

    sarah New Member

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    Really? :shock: I'm more the opposite way. Yawn during the symphonies, give rapt attention at a Brahms piano recital. :D
     
  11. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    And I don't understand either of you young brats... Everything Brahms wrote is marvellous and captivating and perfectly laid out for whatever instrument(s) are involved.
     
  12. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    These are up on the site Mark. Please double-check as I cock up regularly.
     
  13. wiser_guy

    wiser_guy Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    You have done an admirable job playing the whole opus. It's clear that you have worked a lot on these pieces and have managed to present a consistent yet personal view. I enjoyed listening throughout.

    My only concern is that I sensed a little stress, evident by the absence of a more playful style sometimes, or by just going through passages.
    I liked the Ballade. But your best, by far IMO, moment is No 6, the last Intermezzo. There you seem somewhat liberated, enjoying the music, letting yourself go. Very musical this one.
     
  14. sarah

    sarah New Member

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    I know, I know... :lol: I just have a short attention span, that's all. :D
     
  15. juufa72

    juufa72 New Member Piano Society Artist

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    How can you not like the Violin concerto?
     
  16. MarkB

    MarkB Member Piano Society Artist

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    Chris, I checked the files and they are fine. Thanks.


    Wiser_Guy
    , thanks for the comments.

    It is strange, but No 6 is the piece I have played the least of the the whole set. Perhaps, in the other pieces, I achieved a degree of paralysis by analysis i.e. maybe I spent too much time on them and they had lost the spontenaiety by then.

    I always find that there is a prime time in which to play or perform a piece and it doesn't always last a long time. One of the factors that distinguishes professionals from amateurs, I suppose, is their ability to keep a piece fresh over a long time, something which isn't easy, I think.

    Thanks again.
     
  17. sarah

    sarah New Member

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    Oh, I love that piece. But I like it even better if I listen to it one half at a time. :D :D
     
  18. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Mark,

    I just finished listening to the entire set of Op. 118. First, congratulations, as this is a wonderful accomplishment! I believe that your playing is very refined with careful attention to detail in the score. Your renditions provided a pleasurable listening experience indeed.

    Although I've played pieces from Opp. 76, 79, 116, 117, 118, and 119, the only one I've played from Op. 118 is No. 2. So I'll make a few brief comments on that if I may. There is a lot to like in your playing. For example, you emphasize the cantilena line very well, your pedaling is meticulous, you propel the melody through the dotted rhythms nicely to create "sweep" within the phrases, and you do a marvelous job in the chorale at piu lento in voicing the tops of melodic line in the treble chords with the 5th finger and the tops of the bass chords with the thumb. The chorale sounds even, impeccable, and hymn-like there.

    As for criticisms, I have only a few points. Overall, I believe this Intermezzo must sound like a lyrical reverie, and the subject matter of that reverie is romantic in nature. At the moment, I believe your tempo is a little too rushed to realize the romantic character of the reverie. I agree with you that some pianists can get too carried away with this piece, which you were consciously trying to avoid, and I respect that. And the tempo certainly cannot be funereal at the other extreme either. But speed works against lyricism, such that your rendition is, well, a bit matter of fact and businesslike in my humble opinion. You're recording is probably around MM = 69. I believe that Brahm's tempo qualifier of "'teneramente" works better more toward MM = 60 to the quarter note. At the more leisurely pace you can judiciously introduce some rubato non troppo at times and bring out the nuances more. Arthur Rubinstein said, and I might not have the quote exact, but it's close enough, "When I play the piano it's like making love. It's the same." At the moment the piece sounds too constrained, if not a bit prudish. I think it needs a more sensuality throughout, but not out of bounds either.

    At Section B at measure 50, the right hand needs to be legato, lyrical, passionate, rich, and with a sense of sweep in playing the long line there. This has to happen, of course, in the midst of polyrhythms in the LH which complicates achieving the goal. Although you clearly focus on balancing the hands there, I believe you could tone down the left hand even more, so that the RH is at p and the LH even more at pp to further differentiate the two levels of sound, the RH being foreground, the LH truly background accompaniment. As it stands, the LH seems a bit too intrusive.

    Finally, in any piece featuring cantilena or bel canto, I personally like to take the mindset of a singer. On the first page, for example, there are ways to do that effectively. In measure 4 at p del., you could take a bit more liberty there to allow the singer to take a breath before starting the new phrase. There's a similar opportunity in measure 7 at the pp marking. Also, at the bar line separating 22 and 23, the A at the top of the last RH chord in 22 leaps up to the F# in 23. While it's very, very easy for us to accomplish that with fingers on piano keys, it would be more difficult for a singer to execute the leap as fast and directly as you play it now. The singer would more likely prepare for that leap with a subtle pause. If you include that subtle pause there, again it simulates the voice and reinforces the concept of the cantilena line as emulated by the piano.

    I don't mean for my critiques to overshadow your overall very fine performance, Mark. Again, I'm very impressed by your achievement in presenting the complete Op. 118 including No. 2 discussed above. Excellent!

    David
     
  19. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Me, too! :D Actually nearly all pieces which are located in a set gain a unique meaning, when they stay in the set. Like a movement from a sonata.
    In this point of view I listened to all of 6 pieces at once. First of all, congratulation to this wonderful job! I love this set very much, played the whole set myself and have experiences with many recordings of it. This is technically not soooo difficult, but to make a fine rendition like yours requires very skillful hands, indeed. Yours is very musically played, too. To my ears also the second piece is very sensitively and artistically played. (I don't like unnecessarily too much emotion or rit. in this piece.)
    My only critical point is about the tension which is needed to hold the six pieces in a whole. I wish the wonderful tension at the first and the second piece endures through the following pieces to the last one. How about making a more fire at the third one? You could take a little bit faster tempo and more dynamic contrast between sections, as Sarah already pointed out.
    My favourite one in this set is the 6th. I love the mysterious side of this one and see somewhat similarity with the last piece of Vision Fugitives (Lento irrealment) of Prokofiev.
     
  20. MarkB

    MarkB Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hello Hyenal,

    thanks for the comments.

    You make an interesting comparison between the 6th piece of Op 118 and the final Visions Fugitives by Prokofiev. It would never have occurred to me to make that comparison, but I see what you mean.

    I have only learnt a few pieces from the Visions Fugitives over the years. I must get round to playing more of them.

    Regards
    Mark
     

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