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BRAHMS Rhapsodies, Capriccios, Intermezzi; Sonatas Nos 1 & 2 for piano and viola

RECORDS OF THE WEEK Rudolf Firkusny (piano) William Primrose (viola) Recorded 1958-1959 EMI CDM5 66065 2
Brahms as poet and musical aphorist, mellow, questioning, confessional and notably unresponsive to interpretative overstatement. Rudolf Firkusny takes each piano piece at face value, gliding blithely across the rippling surfaces of the C major and B flat minor Intermezzos, summoning storm clouds for Op 76 No I, and lending an appropriate muscularity to the tempestuous Rhapsody in G minor and Capriccio in D minor. "Middle" and "late" Brahms sit side by side, though complex introspection is common to both. Finest of all is the sorrowful E flat minor Intermezzo, a narrative memorial to a departed friend that opens desolately, toys with troubled dissonances, then erupts in a mood of unprecedented defiance.

Ten solo selections occupy roughly half the disc, whereas the rest is given over to a pair of melodically effusive sonatas that Brahms originally composed for clarinet but later transcribed for viola. Again, Firkusny relates Brahms's innate melancholy without fuss or exaggeration, while his partner-in-dialogue - William Primrose, the "Heifetz of the Viola" - proves an elegant virtuoso whose expressive tone is ideal for chamber music.

Pearl have recently issued Primrose's more lustrous early recordings (with Gerald Moore and William Kapell), but these stereo re-makes supplement the expected warmth with an extra degree of perception.