English pianist Jonathan Plowright continues to stake his claim for recording the modern benchmark set of Brahms piano works with this fourth volume in BIS’s superlative series. This despite stiff competition from Irishman Barry Douglas, who has already completed his six-volume set for Chandos and the redoubtable Paul Lewis who coupled the Four Ballades with his recent five-star reading of the First Piano Concerto.
The difference in approach between Plowright and Douglas is no better demonstrated than in the third Intermezzo from the Piano Pieces Op. 119. It’s marked grazioso e giocoso and Plowright dispatches it with infectious high spirits in 1’15’’ while Douglas chooses more grace than jocularity with a generous 1’51’’.
Plowright bookends this latest programme with the first and second sets of the 30 Paganini Variations. Played straight through they are tedious for listener and performer alike, but Plowright’s solution is a fine one.
He plays the other works – the Ballades, Rhapsodies and Piano Pieces Op. 119 – in their original groupings whereas the adventurous Douglas seasons a set of Cappricios with a single Ballade or Intermezzo. So, very different approaches from two very different performers.
Ultimately the choice will be yours. If you can afford both all well and good but there is no doubting that with this beautifully produced disc, Plowright lives up to his reputation for being one of the finest poets of the keyboard around.