Nicholas Angelich certainly has the measure of this gigantic work. Any performance lasting more than 50 minutes is usually in trouble; any lasting less than, say, 46, likewise. At just over 48, Angelich is splendidly central – in terms of tempi at least. However, his opening movement reveals his technique, insights and sensitivity as equally impressive, with Olympian grandeur tempering this storm-tossed music.
In the scherzo, Angelich is truly demonic, but more adversarial than belligerent in his attitude to the orchestra. The cello solo at the opening of the slow movement I find slightly mundane, but it seems more eloquent in its subsequent appearance. Here, Angelich finds much beautifully veiled yet profound emotion, whereas in the finale, he is delightfully skittish.
The eight Klavierstücke Op 76 are an excellent complement. Although composed at much the same time, they occupy a different world. Titled either Capriccio or Intermezzo, all are gentle and introspective, except No 2, sprightly and even spiky, and No 5, with its touches of restrained rhetoric, providing a foretaste of the radiant autumnal quality of Brahms’ later piano pieces. Angelich reveals more sense of Innigkeit – “inwardness”, very important in Brahms – than Ciccolini or even Gieseking.