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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Uriel Tsachor, Brahms in Transcription

Uriel Tsachor's recent piano solo album Brahms in Transcription (MSR Classics MS1721) gives us much to experience and contemplate. All transcriptions on the program were conceived as an adaptation of a work or movement into solo piano terms, trying to come as close as possible musically to the original work. (This in distinction from a Liszt, who might use the original music as a vehicle for a partly recomposed, somewhat reinterpreted new solo piano work.)

There are three categories of transcriptions featured on the program. One is Max Reger's transcriptions of the five slow movements from Brahms' four symphonies. Then there are solo piano transcriptions of Brahms' two-piano "Hungarian Dances," No. 7 and No. 1 by Brahms himself and Nos. 15-17 by Theodor Kirchner. Finally there are two relatively brief but fascinating transcriptions Brahms made of other composer's works--Schumann's Scherzo from the Op. 44 "Piano Quintet", and Gluck's Gavotte from Iphigenie en Aulide. The Reger and Kirchner transcriptions enjoy world premiere recordings here and they are most welcome additions to the Brahms discography.

For pianist Uriel Tsachor this recording is a culmination of a 40-year romance with the music of Brahms. And it shows. The performances are very sympathetic, poetically sensitive to every nuance, emotive but judicious in the proper weighing of every note.

With the Reger-Brahms slow movement symphonic transcriptions we have a kind of steady-state triumph of the of course extraordinary beauty of the Brahm's original orchestral movements coupled with a detailed, idiomatically pianistic re-scoring brilliance by Reger--and then some extraordinarily expressive performances by Maestro Tsachor. It is impossible to choose a favorite but the Adagio from "Symphony No. 2" does seem especially inspired all around, with just the right amount of rubato to make the piano sing. But then the Andante and the Poco Allegretto from No. 3 seem nearly as ravishing. Really all are transcendent, a joy to hear.

The later "Hungarian Dances" in their original two-piano form are filled with complexities and ornamentations to the extent that rethinking them for a single solo piano was hardly a simple matter. Brahms himself performed them solo, reportedly with a good deal of panache, but his on-the-spot improvisational decisions on how they were to sound he found were not conducive to freezing in written form. After tackling No. 7 he left off. Kirchner's Nos. 15-17 convey the folkish charm and complex figurations quite well. They make for very enjoyable listening, a nice change in mood in alternation with the symphonic movements and in the end a virtuoso outing that Tsachor takes in stride, with true musicality. We also get to hear Brahms' own transcription version of No. 1, nicely played.

Finally there are the encore-like additions of the two short examples of Brahms' transcriptions of some choice Schumann and Gluck morsels that leave one feeling content and rewarded.

Anyone who loves Brahms and also loves a nicely played piano program a little off the well-beaten track should find this a good bet. Uriel Tsachor gives us state-of-the-art expressive brightness from first-to-last. Bravo.

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