Brahms Piano Music by Denis Matthews
BBC Music Guide
Professor Matthews begins by classifying Brahms into three aspects: architectural, contrapuntal, lyrical. That makes a solid and elegant frame of discourse; but whether it also contains a lifelike picture will depend on one's personal viewpoint. Of course the chosen perspective affords valuable insights. First the piano music is related most ably to the total achievement; that avowed and ambitious aim is well fulfilled. Then the formal and structural aspects of the music are masterfully discussed, with examples carefully chosen to reveal such typically Brahmsian brainwork as the canonic inversions in op.24, the imitations in op.117 no.1, the thematic transformation in op.119 no.2. But on the lyrical side the touch strikes me as consistently less certain and sometimes jarring, as for example when the famous rhythmic modulation at the end of Von ewiger Liebe is dismissed as “disrupted”, perhaps by deliberate cynicism on the composer’s part. The notion that op. 10 “follows an extra-musical programme” seems to me equally misconceived. In general I felt that Denis Matthews’s strong professorial grasp of forms and structures had somewhat numbed his pianistic feeling for expressive lyricism. Conversely the professor might with advantage have contributed rather more on such: matters as the citing of sources, and researching the early pseudonymous works instead of just speculating about them.
The Musical Times, Feb. 1979 (p. 130)© the estate of eric sams