Rikke Sandberg’s Idiosyncratic Brahms

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 8

Like many pianists these days, Rikke Sandberg wears several hats. She’s the artistic leader of the Nordic Chamber Music Festival, a frequent competition juror, a professor at the Royal Danish Music Academy, and a frequent orchestral pianist for the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and the Malmo Symphony Orchestra. The pianist is also an uneven Brahms interpreter, as this release entitled “Stolen Moments” largely proves.

For example, one rarely hears the A minor Intermezzo Op. 116 No. 2 or the A major Intermezzo Op. 76 No. 3 unfold with her degree of self-indulgent slow motion. The Op. 76 No. 1 Capriccio’s contrapuntal narrative better withstands Sandberg’s rhetorical largesse, but listeners accustomed to Richard Goode’s poised control and textural transparency are forewarned. However, the heightened bass lines dotting Sandberg’s curvaceous route through the B-flat Intermezzo Op. 76 No. 4 generates palpable harmonic tension, not unlike what one hears in, say, Wilhelm Furtwängler’s best-executed performances of the first movement of Brahms’ Third symphony.

Sandberg phrases the Fourth Hungarian Dance bombastically and heavy-handedly; imagine the notorious Ervin Nyiregyhazi with technique, and you’ll hear what I mean. The G minor Hungarian Dance’s opening theme billows like a beer belly, but Sandberg still conveys a sense of free-spirited abandon, albeit not in Julius Katchen’s super-virtuoso class. While one must acknowledge her well-integrated tempos throughout the Variations on a Hungarian Song, there are suppler interpretations to be had; you only have to compare Sandberg’s effortful left-hand repeated notes to Jonathan Plowright’s far more graceful execution.

The Brahms transcription of the Bach D minor Violin Chaconne for left hand alone contains sensitively shaped and colorful pages, yet other passages such as the sequences of 32nd notes that Brahms marked “legato ma leggiero” fall flat. While Sandberg’s idiosyncratic Brahms can command and hold your attention, will it sustain interest over repeated hearings, as in the case of such Brahmsian outliers as Glenn Gould and Ivo Pogorelich?



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Stolen Moments
Reference Recording: Brahms Op. 76: Goode (Nonesuch); Kempff (DG), Brahms Variations Op. 21 No. 2: Plowright (BIS), Bach/Brahms Chaconne: Georg Friedrich Schenck (Castigo)

  • BRAHMS, JOHANNES:
    13 Variations on a Hungarian Song in D major Op. 21 No. 2; Hungarian Dances Nos. 1 & 4; Klavierstücke Op. 76; Intermezzo in A minor Op. 116 No. 2
  • BACH, J.S.:
    Partita No. 2 in D minor for Unaccompanied Violin: Chaconne (transcribed for piano left hand by Johannes Brahms)
  • Rikke Sandberg (piano)

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