Giorgio Koukl | 27 NOV 2023
Do you like Brahms?
Who does not remember this sentence, used as the title of the iconic South Korean TV series (브람스를 좋아하세요), a romance drama about classical music students that created increased interest in the German composer and a wave of notoriety far beyond the usual concertgoer community.
It is difficult to say if the romantic figure of a sad and melancholic composer, with his secret love for Clara Schumann, is more attractive to people than his harmonically refined music. Still, the result is only one: everybody wants to listen to his music, which is practically omnipresent in the average piano recital.
So it is unsurprising that the young Italian pianist Lucia Paradiso has chosen three main sets of miniatures for her CD debut: his Op. 76 Eight Piano Pieces, Op. 117 Three Intermezzi, and Op. 118 Six Piano Pieces — a repertoire which has been recorded many, many times before.
Emotional depth and intricate craftsmanship characterize Brahms’ piano music. These late piano works showcase his mastery of blending lyricism with rich harmonies. Op. 117 consists of three intermezzos, displaying a contemplative and introspective quality. Op. 118, with its six pieces, explores a range of moods, from the tender to the passionate. Brahms employs complex textures and thematic development, making these compositions profound and rewarding for both performers and listeners.
In Op. 117, Brahms exhibits a restrained and introspective side, with each intermezzo creating a sense of deep emotion and introspection. The interplay between melody and harmony acts as a nuanced musical landscape.
Op. 118, on the other hand, is a more varied collection. From the gentle expressiveness of the A minor Intermezzo to the fiery and stormy character of the A major Intermezzo, Brahms showcases his ability to evoke a wide range of emotions. The Intermezzo in E flat minor, in particular, is notable for its touching lyricism and melancholic beauty.
Lucia Paradiso generally prefers a slow and meticulous approach, far different from, let’s say Ivo Pogorelich. While this interpretation gives the listener far more time to enjoy and digest the complicated harmonies, it can be, in certain places, a risky way, being on the brink of creating boredom.
Brahms employs rich harmonic language and intricate counterpoint throughout both sets, revealing his connection to the Romantic era while also foreshadowing the complexities of later musical styles. The pianistic demands in these compositions highlight Brahms’s deep understanding of the instrument’s capabilities. Much has been said about Brahms’ pianistic capabilities. While certainly not much appreciated by his contemporaries, he nonetheless must have been a formidable pianist, disseminating his scores with unusual technical difficulties.
Written earlier in his career, Op. 76 contrasts hugely with the later Op. 117 and Op. 118. These Op. 76 pieces exude youthful energy and a certain virtuosic flair. For example, the Capriccio in F-sharp minor is marked by its dramatic intensity, while the Intermezzo in A major balances a gracious melody with moments of upheaval.
Op. 76 displays Brahms’s exploration of various moods and styles. For instance, the Capriccio in C-sharp minor is rhythmically robust and emphatic, while the Intermezzo in B-flat major introduces a lyrical and expressive character.
Here again, Lucia Paradiso uses her undoubtfully fine sense of dynamic balance and beauty of the well-captured piano sound while preferring the unspectacular slow approach. Especially in the first two of the 17 tracks, she is decidedly too slow and seemingly not ready to risk any virtuosic passage. Well, this can be an overall choice and must be respected, but it is perhaps not a well-chosen strategy for a debut CD.
The Osaka, Japan-based Da Vinci label seems to use its own studio to record, and it must be said that the sound is consistent, well-balanced, and pleasant. ■
- Lucia Paradiso: luciaparadiso.com