A Recommendable Rhapsody Recital

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Although Alexandre Kantorow justifiably speaks of Brahms’ early Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor as a rhapsody (hence its inclusion in a recital of, you guessed it, rhapsodies), his interpretation conveys strong symphonic discipline and unified tempo relationships. There’s plenty of flexibility, to be sure, yet Kantorow’s rhetorical gestures stay within tasteful boundaries, as with his inner voices and inflected bass lines. Take the first movement, for example, where the pianist achieves an excellent fusion of orchestral mass and detailed linear articulation, although I prefer his label mate Jonathan Plowright’s lighter touch and more varied detaché.

Kantorow takes Brahms’ Op. 79 No. 1 Rhapsody designation to heart via subtle modifications of the basic pulse, favoring a more ruminative than usual approach to the B major central section. Kantorow plays the original version of Bartók’s Rhapsody Op. 1 in its solo piano form, as opposed to the composer’s radically foreshortened revision. The pianist holds the prolix writing together by doling out rubato in just the right proportions and tearing through the virtuosic episodes with convincing drive and élan.

Some listeners may find Kantorow’s dynamic taperings throughout the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11 a bit affected and sectionalized, in contrast to the more fluent parlando style distinguishing past masters as diverse as Alfred Cortot, William Kapell, and Claudio Arrau. Yet the music can withstand Kantorow’s exploratory notions, especially since he has the technique and unflappable control to bring them off. Highly recommended.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Brahms Piano Sonata No. 2: Plowright (BIS); Arrau (Decca)

JOHANNES BRAHMS: Rhapsody in B minor Op. 79 No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor Op. 2
BELA BARTÓK: Rhapsody Op. 1
FRANZ LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11

  • Alexandre Kantorow (piano)

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