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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

Piano Music

  • Rhapsodies Op. 79 (1879)
  • Fantasias Op. 116 (1892)
  • Intermezzos Op. 117 (1892)
  • Klavierstücke Op. 118 (1893)
  • Klavierstücke Op. 119 (1893)
Antonín Kubalek, piano
Dorian Records DOR-90159 DDD 77:07
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What if we replaced the regular incidental music of a generic television drama, say CHiPs, with a late opus of Brahms? Would viewers take notice? or would they react with the bland surprise of diners who have had their house blend switched with Folger's Crystals? "Oh, no, really? I didn't notice."

While movies and television generate reams of mostly awful "theme" music – character pieces like the familiar "cop-stalks-suspect-through-crowd-of-unwitting-bystanders" – an almost equally staggering archive of much better classical scores is mouldering in piano benches. Take Kubalek's second Brahms disc, a precís of that composer's ineffably beautiful stücke. The nearly eighty minutes contain enough love themes for an entire season of daytime drama. Yet Hollywood has already chosen its classical canon, mostly splashy "big finish" pieces: "Ode to Joy," "Carmina Burana," and "The Four Seasons." Emotions are applied with a roller rather than a detail brush, because it's easy and familiar and people "like" it. I wish more directors would take a dare, like Phil Kaufman, who chose a mostly Janáček score for The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Kubalek plays Brahms with a clean, clearly projected style without being austere. His playing is technically secure and often beautiful. Sound is close, yet not very immediate; there is some ambience missing or the piano's tone is a little dry. Annotations by Mr. Kubalek are wayward, yet informative.

Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan