Paul Lewis's Brahms: Late Piano Works — Glowing with Warmth
The ageing process was not kind to Brahms. As a young adult he still looked juvenile but, by the time he reached his mid-50s, the years had caught up with him and photographs show an antiquated figure with a long beard like Old Father Time. It's that later Brahms who is the focus of this most recent disc from Paul Lewis. The composer spent his last years in a mood of valediction, writing a select group of smaller pieces that would penetrate the "uppermost limit of the still expressible", while at the same time destroying the bulk of his early music. The youthful Brahms was largely wiped from posterity's gaze. This disc collects together the last four groups of pieces for solo piano. Written in 1892/3, when Brahms was turning 60, they comprise the Seven Fantasias Op 116, Three Intermezzi Op 117, Six Pieces for Op 118 and Four Pieces for Op 119. These add up to just the right length to fill a disc and have been popular with pianists in the recording era. Lewis has been including selections from them in his recent recital programmes and part of the joy of this disc is how well the music seems run-in. Everything here feels natural, that sunset of sound so familiar from Brahms's late music glowing with unforced warmth and eloquence. Lewis is even more intimate than most in the favourite Intermezzo, Op 118 No 2, gently songful in the first Intermezzo of Op 117, quietly profound in the closing Op 119 set. It is one of his finest recordings.