François Chaplin’s Brahms

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

Arthur Rubinstein’s “chamber music for piano solo” description of Brahms’ later pieces for the instrument often comes to mind while listening to François Chaplin. In Op. 118’s opening salvo, for example, the pianist gives cogent linear shape to the left hand’s arpeggiated figurations, following each one through from start to finish. He imbues the gorgeous second piece in A major with the subtlest rubato, and imparts a rhythmic spring to No. 3’s difficult-to-voice accompaniment. While Chaplin’s probing linear interplay prevents the F minor No. 4 from sounding texturally mushy, the melodic trajectory somehow fades in and out of focus and never takes wing as in the gently soaring Volodos recording. In the opus’ final selection, Chaplin’s broad tempo and long-lined steadiness intensifies the dissonances without belaboring them.

After hearing this rendition, I thought Chaplin might also subject the B minor Op. 119 No. 1 Intermezzo to the weight of the world, yet his intimately introspective reading checks weariness at the door. Op. 119 No. 4’s heavy chords have an appreciably supple mobility, yet Chaplin’s emphatic detaché articulation keeps the usually graceful C major No. 3 earthbound (Wilhelm Kempff’s similar approach is more fancifully varied). Of the two Op. 79 Rhapsodies, I decidedly prefer the animated sweep of Chaplin’s G minor to his sometimes arch and self-aware phrase tapering in the B minor.

Chaplin taps into Op. 117 No. 2’s tender core, and does as well with No. 1’s outer sections. However, the central episode’s ritards undermine the impact of Brahms’ cross-rhythmic phrases that Emanuel Ax eloquently and straightforwardly elucidates. For all of No. 3’s clear delineation, Chaplin never plays softly enough, and he lacks the imaginative nuance and mobility with which pianists like Volodos and Dinorah Varsi make this music come alive. My reservations, however, should not detract listeners from seeking out this disc’s interpretive highlights.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Op. 118: Volodos (Sony); Op. 117: Ax (Sony), Op. 79: Rubinstein (RCA); Op. 119: Kempff (DG)

  • BRAHMS, JOHANNES:
    Piano Pieces Op. 118 & 119; Rhapsodies Op. 79; Intermezzi Op. 117
  • François Chaplin (piano)

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