Alessio Bax plays Brahms


The Italian-born pianist and Leeds competition winner Alessio Bax returns with his third solo recital disc for Signum. His programme surveys a selection of highlights from Brahms’ pianistic output, charting his development from the early lyrical collection ‘4 Ballades‘ (1854) through to the ‘eight perfect gems’ that are the 8 Klavierstücke Op.76 (1871-78). Bax also tackles Brahms’ fiendish set of ‘Variations on a Theme of Pagainini, Op.35′, which Bax describes in the programme notes as one of "the most fearsome works ever written for piano". 


What people are saying

"… an all-Brahms recital that confirms what we auditors at last year’s Menlo Concerts in Palo Alto (the “Through Brahms” experience) already knew: that Bax delivers a natural ethos in this composer’s combination of romantic passion and classical architecture." Audiophile Audition, November 2012

"a must-listen for any fan of late-Romantic piano music. This is one of the great solo-piano albums of 2012. It’s as simple as that." Musical Toronto, November 2012

Alessio Bax

Release date:22nd Oct 2012
Order code:SIGCD309
Barcode: 635212030929

Connoisseur’s Choice: Alessio Bax gives a marvellous performance, so idiomatic is his playing on this album from Signum Classics, he plays exceptionally well and I really like this album.

David Mellor, Classic FM

June 2013

Editor’s Choice

After a long period with only a few new Brahms releases, it seems that now every major record company has found an interesting pianist to record the piano music of the German cigar-chomping master. British pianists are among the leading interpreters, including Barry Douglas, Jonathan Plowright, Martin Jones and Leon McCawley. All have released very fine recordings, although the benchmark remains the recording by Julius Katchen, which has never been out of the catalogue.

I sincerely hope Alessio Bax’s Brahms will also stay in the catalogue and that he will continue to record more Brahms. His enthusiastic performance of the Paganini Variations is enough to secure him a place among the very best. It is not only his technical prowess that I cannot stop praising, but also, as in the Four Ballades, the high quality of his musicianship. He carefully lays out the complex emotions of the nearly half-hour-long Klavierstücke opus 35 in a way that many seasoned pianists would envy. The finely recorded piano is heard to its full advantage in a naughty Bax arrangement of the Fifth Hungarian Dance, already made impossible to play by Cziffra. It’s as if Bax is saying ‘come on, I can do anything’. And perhaps he can.  

Marius Dawn, Pianist Magazine

April 2013 Critics Choice

Alessio Bax is living and urgently needed proof that competition triumphs are still meaningful; something to associate with playing of the highest calibre. His performance of Brahms’s Paganini Variations is sufficiently prodigious to invite comparison with such luminaries as Michelangeli and Géza Anda. Yet his virtuosity is effortless, lyrical and never hard-driven; and while others struggle to clarify Brahms’s potential opacity, Bax makes light of every devilish demand.

His way, too, with the more interior Brahms is no less memorable, as ardent as it is refined in the early and introspective Ballades, pianistically and musically immaculate in the hallucinatory flights of No 3 and as poetic as anyone could wish in No 4, where the music seems to have stepped straight from the pages of Brahms’s Lieder. In the Op 76 Klavierstücke, Bax captures all of Brahms’s half-lights (in No 6 in particular he offers a ravishing alternative to, say, Glenn Gould’s recorded perversity) and is unforgettably eloquent in the romantic turbulence of No 1 and in the storm clouds that race across No 5. His tone, like ‘soft incense’ with its seamless legato and glowing cantabile, makes you feel that Brahms, like Debussy, could claim that he wrote for an instrument without hammers. For his encore Bax plays Brahms/Cziffra/Bax and an arrangement of impish brilliance and glee. Signum’s sound is excellent and the company is surely blessed to have such an artist on its books. 

Gramophone, Critic’s Choice – Bryce Morrlson

March/April 2013

Italian Pianist Alessio Bax, winner of the 2000 Leeds International Piano Competition, is a player of refreshing depth. In an age of the hyper-virtuoso, Bax presents a Brahms recital that aims to show the contrasting sides of the composer’s piano music, from the autumnally ruminative to the overtly virtuosic. The former is beautifully demonstrated by the Op 10 Ballades, each chord carefully weighted and coloured. Signum’s recording faithfully captures the burnished quality of Bax’s sound. Even when playing staccato, he maintains a full tone, and in his hands the Fourth Ballade becomes a full-scale tone-poem. The Op 76 pieces seem a logical continuation, and here Bax reveals great awareness of the part writing.

The two books of Paganini Variations pose few, if any, technical challenges for this pianist. Yet it is the reflective variations that truly resonate (the tenter and intimate 11th Variation of Book 1, for example) and Bax revels, too, in the more exploratory second book. 

International Piano Magazine

March/April 2013
Italian pianist Alessio Bax, winner of the 2000 Leeds International Piano Competition, is a player of refreshing depth.  In the age of the hyper-virtuoso, Bax presents a Brahms recital that aims to show the contrasting sides of the composer’s piano music, from the autumnally ruminative to the overtly virtuosic. The former is beautifully demonstrated by the Op 10 Ballades, each chord carefully weighted and coloured.  Signum’s recording faithfully captures the burnished quality of Bax’s sound. Even when playing staccato, he maintains a full tone, and in his hands the Fourth Ballade becomes a full-scale tone-poem. The Op 76 pieces seem a logical continuation, and here Bax reveals great awareness of the part writing.  

The two books of Paganini Variations pose few, if any, technical challenges for this pianist. Yet it is the reflective variations that truly resonate (the tender and intimate 11th variation of Book 1, for example) and Bax revels, too, the more exploratory second book. 

International Piano, Colin Clarke

Spring 2013

Alessio Bax has a way of taking big, growling, potentially overwrought romantic piano animals — lately Rachmaninoff, now Brahms — and making them purr like kittens. The brooding depth of Brahms’ Four Ballades is transformed into steady calm, especially the serene murmur of the Fourth is sensitive, sentimental, and light. With no browbeating Brahms in sight, Bax and listeners emerge irretrievable into the light with the second of the Eight Pieces for Piano, the ambiguously jocund B minor Capriccio. The Paganini Variations — more afterthought than main ingredient — are individually tracked. Bax’s edgeless tone is matched by the sound on this Signum release.

Listen, Jens Laurson

March/April 2013

With every pianist eventually turning to Brahms, it was inevitable that Bax throw his hat in the ring as well. In this case, his proved prowess as a pianist amply justifies the results. For those of you wondering about the possibility of a release titled Bax plays Bax (Arnold, that is), it hasn’t happened yet, though stranger things have turned up in the world of records and recordings.

Bax embraces this music as a natural. This is easily determined after only a few minutes of listening. Given his superb technical ability and the compelling rightness of his phrasing, the first impression in the Ballades is of a pianist more concerned with beauty of sound and nuance than with any attempts to storm the heights. There is an ease to this playing that I find most attractive.

The Op.76 Piano Pieces offer more variety, and Bax refuses to push himself to any level that would become a challenge to good taste and impeccable good breeding. While such an approach might be the proving ground for dullness, Bax will have none of that. It is clearly a matter of playing the music correctly and with the expression and restraint of an artist well on his way to becoming a major figure in the years ahead.

Both books of the Paganini Variations make challenging demands on players. As with the rest of the recital, Bax is totally immersed in the music and, while letting himself go a little more, rarely seems to call undue attention to himself as performer. While the variations flow with spirit and awesome control, Bax always maintains clarity by making spare use of the pedal. How he avoids relying on this crutch is a study in phrasing skill and balance. While others have tackled this music with varying success, I would place Bax among the finest to be heard in many years. Both sets are performed as a single entity, so it is logical to listen to them without pause. Since each variation is separately tracked it is especially easy to study in detail how the magic of dexterity, continuity, nuance, lightness, and breathtaking exuberance is achieved.

As a four-minute encore, the Hungarian Dance is performed in an arrangement by Hungarian virtuoso Georges Cziffra, with further accretions by Bax. If this seems to tip the results even more in the direction of virtuosity, so be it. The results are interventionist in the best sense of that word, and stray a fair distance from the original. It is a spectacle of fun and frolic. The notes, including musical examples, are well done; and the sound engineering is all it should be.

American Record Guide, Becker

February 2013

The challenges of Brahms’ piano works suit Alessio Bax’s big technique, multi-colored sonority, and innate musicality. He imbues the Op. 10 Ballades’ first two pieces with both long-lined lyricism and fiery power while assiduously integrating the final piece’s improvisatory impulses into a fluid whole. … Bax launches into the Paganini Variations at an optimistic clip that his formidable fingers manage to maintain while still finding room to let an inner voice linger here and there, or to vary his voicing upon repeats. … Altogether a fine, often stimulating and excellently engineered release.
[Artistic Quality: 9; Sound Quality: 9]

Classics Today, Jed Distler

February 2013

CBC Radio 2  CD of the Week

Among the younger generation of international piano virtuosos, Alessio Bax is one of the most compelling. Born in Bari, Italy, a winner of the 2009 Leeds Piano Competition as well as a prestigious Avery Fisher career grant, Bax has laid the foundation of what promises to be a sustained, serious career. 

Married to Canadian pianist Lucille Chung, with whom he performs in an acclaimed piano duo, Bax is based in New York. There, he’s a regular with theChamber Music at Lincoln Centre Series which features New York’s A-list? classical musicians in intimate performances. But it’s through his studio recordings that Bax is building an international following.

Just out is his seventh CD (he’s also recorded two as half of the Bax/Chung Piano Duo) and in many ways it’s his most impressive. Previous forays into repertoire by Rachmaninov and Bach reveal a committed, intelligent musician. This new Brahms disc shows us a musician with something unique to say. "Brahms," writes Bax, "connects on such an intimate, deep level and allows us as performers and listeners to explore and indulge a huge range of emotions on our journeys through his music."     

Included in this recording is Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini, which Bax calls "some of the most fearsome works ever written for piano."

Bax, though, doesn’t seem at all daunted by the musical challenges. He approaches this appealing program with panache and thoughtfulness – a potent combination.

CBC Radio 2

January 2013

Alessio Bax was the first prize winner at both the 1997 Hamamatsu International Piano Competition and the 2000 Leeds International Piano Competition. Today he is pursuing a successful international career. At the time of writing the Italian-born Bax is playing dates in New York, the city in which he has made his home. 

I remain impressed with Bax’s previous two releases on the Signum Classics label. In 2009 there was ‘Bach Transcribed’ and from 2011 ‘Rachmaninov: Preludes and Melodies’.
Bax’s latest offering on Signum Classics is a Brahms recital recorded earlier this year at the Wyastone Concert Hall in Monmouth. The high quality programme has been well chosen opening with the 4 Ballades. The young Brahms at the start of his composing career had recently begun his association with Robert and Clara Schumann. With the form of the ballade Brahms was following in the footsteps of Chopin who had completed his final F Major Ballade just over a decade earlier in 1842/43. I especially enjoyed Bax’s expressive playing of the Ballade No.3 in B minor, a restless and stormy Intermezzo containing a profusion of scurrying figures. By contrast in his interpretation of the Ballade No. 4 in B major Bax fashions a dream-like world of comfort and security.

Next we have the 8 Klavierstücke. These miniature masterworks are products of Brahms’s compositional maturity. He styled them as either Intermezzos typically soothing pieces or squally Capriccios. Somewhat predictably the standout here is the frequently heard No. 2 Capriccio in B minor with its memorable Staccato theme. I love the way Bax entices such charming lyricism from the No. 3 Intermezzo in A-flat major. By using the popular theme based on Paganini’s Twenty-Fourth Caprice Brahms with his Paganini Studies, Op. 35 was following similarly inspired works by Liszt and Schumann. Bax is thoroughly at home playing this formidable set of pieces with such proficiency and rapt concentration. For the short final work on the release Bax has selected his own adaptation of György Cziffra’s transcriptions of Brahms’s well known Hungarian Dance No. 5. Bax flavours the gypsy melody heard over emphatically strong rhythms with spicy seasoning. There is never any suggestion of the commonly encountered uncomfortable and brash feeling. Bax ensures that the popular tune remains fresh and appealing.

I relished this recital programme by Alessio Bax from start to finish. Demonstrating such a high level of musicality there is no sense that Bax is distracting focus away from the composer to the soloist. Bax’s splendidly assured playing is satisfying and the recording has the benefit of splendid sound quality.

Musicweb International, Michael Cookson

January 2013

The intriguingly named, unreasonably photogenic pianist Alessio Bax proves himself here to be an ideal Brahmsian. The disc’s sampling of Brahms’s early, middle, and late piano music follows an artful sequence that moves from the yearning, gloomy op. 10 Ballades, to the emotionally varied, experimental op. 76 pieces, to the Paganini Variations’ splendid showiness, and into even further levels of exhibitionism with Bax’s doctoring of a Cziffra-transcribed Hungarian dance.   

I can’t recall hearing a less than compelling performance of Brahms’s four ballades. Gilels, Michelangeli, Gould, and Rubinstein, among others, each recorded distinguished versions, but Bax’s performance brings out the jagged rhyme schemes of their phrase structure with even greater eloquence than his predecessors.  He delivers the music’s narrative like a superb Lieder singer, and his obvious comfort with Brahms’s sometimes awkward piano writing enables him to color the music more subtly than I have heard before. (In the playing of some of the greatest Brahms pianists —Petri, Kempff, Katchen, Richter—instrumental color is sometimes an afterthought).

The op. 76 set of eight intermezzos and capriccios, is the largest of Brahms’s collections of short piano pieces from his later years, is less often heard than opp. 116-119, and represents a far more resourceful approach to piano writing than op. 10. Bax is wonderfully responsive to the music’s variety of textures and moods. It’s as if he paints each piece with its own palette of colors, enhanced by beautifully clear articulation and imaginative pedalling, and always with a natural, eloquent arc to the phrasing. Some carefully clipped, staccato chords in the second piece—Brahms in a humorous, Hungarian mode—sounded unusual to me, but they are found in the score, more scrupulously observed by Bax than other pianists. The set’s musical high point is reached in the final C major Capriccio, a contrapuntally dense, harmonically searching, and emotionally uninhibited piece that Bax turns into a suitably ecstatic conclusion.   

Alessio Bax’s big technique is worthy of Brahms’s piano concertos, the first of which he has recorded, and he revels in the unabashed virtuosity of the Paganini Variations. He plays the Paganini theme once at the start, and proceeds continuously through both books in an uneccentric, joyous performance, savoring the relief provided by the two slower variations in Book Two. The Hungarian Dance No. 5, as transcribed by György Cziffra, is one of several Brahms Hungarian Dance adaptations that Bax performs as encores in his concerts, and that is its dazzling function here. 

Signum’s sound ideally showcases Bax’s huge dynamic range. When I want to listen to any of these pieces, this truly notable disc will now be my first choice. I urge you to hear it. 

Fanfare, Paul Orgel

January 2013

The Italian pianist Alessio Bax has established a fine international reputation since winning the Leeds Competition a dozen years ago. Born in 1977, he studied at the Bari Conservatory and later with Francois-Joel Thiollier and Joaquin Achucarro. He impressed me very much when I heard him play a recital in Washington two years ago, so the excellence of this Brahms disc is not a surprise.

Then, as now, what stands out is his wonderful control of sound at every level and his dazzling facility. In fact, the latter is quite awesome in the ‘Paganini’ Variations, in which he must set several speed records while playing as cleanly and musically as one could want. There have, of course, been great historical recordings of this knuckle-breaking piece, notably by Wilhelm Backhaus, Egon Petri, Geza Anda and Julius Katchen (and more modern excellent ones by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Evgeny Kissin and Yuja Wang). From his first notes it is clear that Bax belongs in this elite company, displaying an athletic approach that is rhythmically taut and a sound that is alternately pungent and melting. Fast reflexes are to the fore in the first eight variations of Book 1, followed by some lovely espressivo playing in Variation 10 and especially in the ‘music box’ Variation 11. His clarity, speed and dynamic control in the final variation make for a wonderfull and exciting conclusion of this book. In the slightly less demanding Book 2, I would single out the terrifically light and fast Variation 7 (with polyrhythms as in Schumann’s ‘Paganini’ from Carnaval), the equally difficult Variation 11 (an etude for the first two fingers of each hand, in contrary motion, scherzando), the quiet but never dragged Variations 12 and 13 and a very brisk finale that benefits from unexaggerated dynamics and sparse pedalling. This work is not Brahms’s most profound, but it is wonderfully well crafted from the point of instrumental and compositional technique. One wonders how Brahms himself might have played it (he was famous for devil-may-care tempos as well as quite a few wrong notes). It seems that Clara Schumann avoided it, calling it ‘Witches’ Variations’.

Bax is a very different pianist in Op. 10 and Op. 76, where he draws out the lyricism and brooding qualities inherent in the scores. He manages to do this while playing fairly strictly in time and with judicious shallow pedalling. In many ways the slower pieces are made more touching by this simple and straightforward approach, which is often similar to Katchen’s. Subtle contrasts of touch create a real dialogue between mother and son in the dramatic, patricidal ‘Edward’ Ballade, Op. 10 No. 1, colourism marks the lullaby-like outer sections of Nos. 2 and 4 and the quirky qualities of No. 3 are perfectly realized at a brisk tempo. In Op. 76 the highlights are an unusually moody No.1, a light and playful No. 2, a soft and gentle No. 6 and a most graceful No. 8. I would have liked greater agitation in No. 5 and a somewhat slower tempo in No. 7, but these are minor quibbles in a carefully considered account of this opus. 

From what I have heard in concert and on this recording, Bax seems to be a rather cool interpreter of romantic music, but his playing is musical, refreshing and often exciting. I am eager to hear him in a wider range of repertoire. 

International Record Review, Charles Timbrell

December 2012

Top 5 CDs of 2012

Dallas Morning News, Scott Cantrell

December 2012

Just one composer is featured here, but in Bax’s fascinating hands, it’s more like three. The ‘Paganini Variations,’ rendered with flawless control, represent Brahms the fiery virtuoso, while the Op. 10 Ballades, no less seductively played, reveal a younger, more lyrical mind. In between stands Op. 76, the staggering creation of an artist possessed of every tool. For kicks, Bax includes a fourth identity: his own, in the form of a lavish twist on the beloved Hungarian Dance No. 5. Grade: A

Zachary Lewis, Cleveland Plain Dealer

 December 2012

Brahms’s Paganini Variations are doubly notorious. Performers fear their bloody-minded difficulties, listeners are prone to feeling taxed by a compositional style that can often seem to place too high a value on the étude-like nature of the writing – the description “Studies” is on the title page of the first edition above the word “Variations”. Alessio Bax takes what you might call a loose-limbed approach, always happy to prioritise musical shape over technical rigour. The same kind of flexibility informs his approach to the early Ballades of Op 10 and the eight Piano Pieces of Op 76. It’s refreshing to hear a pianist who has a grasp of tenderness and flightiness in Brahms as well as the more familiarly encountered German gravity.

The Irish Times, Michael Dervan

December 2012

Classic FM Connoisseur’s Choice: Alessio Bax gives a marvelous performance, so idiomatic is his playing on this album from Signum Classics, he plays exceptionally well and I really like this album. 

Classic FM, David Mellor

November 2012

It takes effort to translate a printed score into music. It’s not just the physical effort of playing (or singing) the notes, but the mental effort of giving the sound shape and motion. With composers like Bach and Brahms just to name two, it takes more effort than average. But potential rewards are huge. Italian pianist Alessio Bax, one of the great younger artists of our time, gives us the whole package in some particularly hard-to-shape piano music by Johannes Brahms. These little musical whirlpools have sent more than one otherwise great pianist spinning haplessly. Many people play the music nicely. But very, very few give it the clear sense of purpose that emerges from Bax’s fleet fingers.

This album, released on the Signum label, is a must-listen for any fan of late-Romantic piano music. This is one of the great solo-piano albums of 2012. It’s as simple as that. Bax’s choice of pieces makes up a substantial, 75-minute recital programme, starting with the Four Ballades, Op. 10, written when Brahms was a sensitive 21-year-old recovering from the near-suicide of his friend Robert Schumann.

These are followed by the seriously introspective Eight Piano Pieces, Op. 76, by a middle-aged composer who is working hard at the creative reuse of simple musical figures, moving around dense layers of counterpoint and strange, viscerally satisfying harmonic shifts. These pieces are the true test of a pianist’s mix of intellect and vision. Bax’s results are so clear-headed as to make the music sound completely fresh. Then comes the test of the virtuoso pianist: Brahms’s two books of Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35, written by a young man still intent on showing off a little bit. It is one of the few sets of variations (including Bach’s Goldbergs) based on the harmonic structure of the original theme rather than a simple melody. Each is a test of a particular composition skill as well as the outermost limits of a pianist’s technical abilities.

Bax plays these pieces with the ease and exuberance and good nature of a teenager playing beach volleyball on a clear, hot day. He is at once brilliant and gentle, driven and able to take a moment’s break to smile and enjoy the shimmer of sunlight on the water’s surface.

The encore is Bax’s own gilded take on late virtuoso pianist Georges Cziffra’s transcription of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 5.

Musical Toronto, John Terauds

November 2012

For his 2012 release on Signum Classics, Alessio Bax presents a well-rounded program of Brahms’ piano music that reveals a wide range of expressions and techniques. Bax begins with the 4 Ballades, Op. 10, which are for the most part subdued and introspective in moods reminiscent of Chopin, and he continues in the same quiet vein with the 8 Klavierstucke, Op. 76, a set of Capriccios and Intermezzos that reflect Brahms’ intensely lyrical style. In sharp contrast, the two books of Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 35, are flamboyant pieces that give Bax a chance to display more than his gifts of smooth phrasing and legato playing. Instead, these fantastic variations on Paganini’s famous Caprice in A minor let him show off his prodigious skills in a brilliant tour de force. In conclusion, Bax offers up a high-voltage performance of the Hungarian Dance No. 5, which was arranged by Hungarian pianist György Cziffra and given addition fireworks by Bax.

All Music Guide, Blair Sanderson

November 2012

Italian virtuoso Alessio Bax performs (rec. 5-7 January 2012) an all-Brahms recital that confirms what we auditors at last year’s Menlo Concerts in Palo Alto (the “Through Brahms” experience) already knew: that Bax delivers a natural ethos in this composer’s combination of romantic passion and classical architecture. Bax notes that Brahms provides us one of those “visionaries who re-affirm the past and reinforce its foundations in order for us to move forward.”

Bax opens with the 1854 Four Ballades, of which the first in D Minor “Edward” retains a programmatic atmosphere, based on a Scottish tale about patricide. The transition to a Beethoven Fifth allusion in D Major allows Bax stentorian chords, but the da capo assumes a transparent melancholy. The D Major Andante that follows provides a kind of second movement to an untitled sonata. Folk elements weld themselves to tropes found in Schumann, piano, espessivo e dolce that segue to a virile march in the shifting meters of Schumann’s fantasy-maerchen. Acid attacks mark the B Minor Ballade No. 3, an intermezzo that serves as a scherzo. The trio section, diaphanous and carillon-like, provides an elegant contrast. Schumann’s dream-world spokesman, Eusebius, narrates a gossamer B Major Ballade via Bax, the tender droplets of which might have impressed Debussy. Episodic, rife with falling intervals, the piece sums up much of the Brahms ethos of controlled melancholia.

Despite a time lapse of some seventeen years, the liquid nostalgia of the Op. 76, No. 1 Capriccio in F-sharp Minor (1871) emanates a poised sadness and interior yearning. The compression of form does not diminish the exquisite intensity of feeling that Bax conveys to open this set of eight pieces Brahms evolved through 1878. The perennial Artur Rubinstein encore, the B Minor Capriccio, receives lightly explosive accents and gypsy whims from Bax. Liquid pearls define the A-flat Major Intermezzo, haunted in a way that suggests one of Schumann’s added studies for his Op. 13 Symphonic Etudes. Melancholy echo effects and subtle tremolos mark the B-flat Major Intermezzo whose middle section rings with dark hues. The C-sharp Minor Capriccio looks ahead to theOp. 117, No. 3 in its stormy passion, more of a Beethoven fierce bagatelle than its surrounding neighbors. Almost a Chopin mazurka in ternary form, the nuancedIntermezzo in A Major has Bax in poignant colloquy in several soft registers, lovingly etched. The A Minor Intermezzo again harkens us to Artur Rubinstein’s silken way in this repetitive melancholy plaint, a piece Bax caresses and pedals delicately. A shimmering angst permeates the C Major Capriccio that concludes the set, an opus Bax imbues with haunted resignation.

The 1863 two books of Paganini Variations were conceived for Polish piano phenomenon Carl Tausig, whom Liszt once described as “the infallible, with fingers of steel.” Having just auditioned the traversal of these overtly bravura studies by Erika Haase, hearing them with Bax at his breakneck speeds makes me do with my ears what my eyes do when gawking. Here is Brahms in the Earl Wild/Gyorgy Cziffra mood – tradition, bold, impetuous revels in color and character. To hear Bax negotiate double thirds and sixths with singular aplomb arouses our awe and envy. In its more demure or subdued moments, the Bax rendition touches upon the intimacy of the BachD Minor Chaconne for solo violin, the musettes of Book I having become enchantingsiciliani. A demonic Paganini etude in audacious flourishes concludes Book I.

No less furor inhabits Book II, in which Bax extends his prodigious mastery of color and technique. A persuasive Hungarian ethos infiltrates Variation 4. Variation No. 5 might have provided fodder for Saint-Saens’ kangaroos. Whiplash glissandi attack us in Variation 10. The lovely waltz in F Major, Variation 12, sings in a halo of arpeggios. Schumann’s influence moves Variation 13, so we wonder what Bax will do someday in that composer’s Op. 13. The singular momentum of the last Variation 14 quite overwhelms us in power, poetry, and grand gesture.

The encore piece, a wickedly mischievous setting of the Hungarian Dance No. 5 – used with equal wit by Charles Chaplin in The Great Dictator for a virtuoso shave – dazzles with a jazzy, boldly colossal chutzpah that brings this stunning disc to a madcap conclusion worthy of Liszt, if not Brahms.

Audiophile Audition, Gary Lemco

  1. 4 Ballades Op.10 – Johannes Brahms –
  2. 8 Klavierst?cke, Op.76 – Johannes Brahms –
  3. 28 Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op.35 – Johannes Brahms –
  4. Hungarian Dance No.5 – Brahms/Cziffra/Bax –