Nelson Freire, Brahms

Brahms
Piano Sonata No 3 et al
Nelson Freire, p
Decca 4832154

Brahms’ Third Piano Sonata in F Minor, Op. 5 could best be described as knotty or, perhaps, gnarly. Still at the outset of his career, it marks his farewell to the keyboard sonata and is a book-end to most of the remainder of the works on this CD, his exquisite late miniatures, some full-blooded and agitated but mostly intimate.

In five, instead of the usual four movements, the Third Sonata has never quite entered the mainstream repertoire. In the opening movement, Freire (who first recorded it exactly 50 years ago) displays heroic defiance in the leaps of amazingly mature music from such a young composer. (Among Beethoven’s sonatas, only the Hammerklavier is longer.) As Misha Donat writes in the liner notes, there is an element of “In our beginning is our end…” in the first Andante where the bass line notes sound like ominous timpani strokes and eerily anticipate the moods of pieces he composed at the end of life. Even the waltz–like third movement Intermezzo of the sonata sounds strangely mirthless. Freire has the entire work’s prodigious measure.

In the late works, every note is cherished without being cossetted – from the G Minor Ballade, which shows Brahms still with fire in his belly, to my two favourites: the gorgeous Intermezzo in E, Op. 116, No 4, and the Intermezzo in A, Op. 118, No 2. Here, I’m forced to add a codicil: the Op. 39 Waltz No 15 – surely the most haunting tune Brahms ever wrote.