- 01 – Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 118 – No. 1 Intermezzo. Allegro non assai ma molto appassionato
- 02 – Johannes Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 118 – No. 2 Intermezzo. Andante teneramente
- 03 – Johannes Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 118 – No. 3 Ballade. Allegro energico
- 04 – Johannes Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 118 – No. 4 Intermezzo. Allegretto un poco agitato
- 05 – Johannes Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 118 – No. 5 Romanze. Andante
- 06 – Johannes Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 118 – No. 6 Intermezzo. Andante largo e mesto
- 07 – Anton Webern – Kinderstueck
- 08 – Anton Webern – Satz fur Klavier
- 09 – Alban Berg – Sonata Op. 1
- 10 – Anton Webern – Klavierstueck Ð Im Tempo eines Menuetts
- 11 – Anton Webern – Variations Op. 27 – I. Sehr massig
- 12 – Anton Webern – Variations Op. 27 – II. Sehr schnell
- 13 – Anton Webern – Variations Op. 27 – III. Ruhig fliessend
- 14 – Johannes Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 119 – No. 1 Intermezzo
- 15 – Johannes Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 119 – No. 2 Intermezzo
- 16 – Johannes Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 119 – No. 3 Intermezzo
- 17 – Johannes Brahms – Klavierstuecke Op. 119 – No. 4 Rhapsodie
PINA NAPOLITANO – BRAHMS THE PROGRESSIVE
BRAHMS | WEBERN | BERG
For acclaimed pianist Pina Napolitano, there is no better way of looking at art and history than through the lens of inverted time, from the present to the past. This seems to be what Schoenberg invites us to do in his essay, “Brahms the Progressive”, in which Brahms, often considered a musical “conservative”, becomes instead the father of modernism. This provides the essence of this album: traversing time in two directions, looking at Brahms from the future of the modern Viennese, and vice versa, looking at the Second Viennese School from the past of Brahmsian romanticism.
For Pina Napolitano there are romantic echoes in the works of the Second Viennese School; an enormous expressive force distilled and compressed, all the way up to Webern’s rarefied language where even the silences are charged with music and significance. And on the other hand she has always perceived Brahms’ music as a magic prism, in which an entire musical past (encompassing Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann…) merges together, before breaking off into rivulets that will give birth to 20th-century music.
We hear on this album Berg’s Op.1 Sonata, in which there is an intricate network of motivic relations, rhythmic flexibility and metrical ambiguity, the music unfolding with the sort of fluidity and connectedness which are hallmarks of Brahms’ style. Harmonically, the sonata begins and ends in B minor, but includes a range of non-tonal harmonies. Webern’s Satz (1906) was written not long after he had begun to take lessons with Schoenberg, but the piece shows clearly how Webern’s music grew out of the 19th century. Written in 1924, Webern’s Kinderstück is his earliest complete piece using 12-note serialism, but it is with his Variations, Op. 27 (1936) that we hear a more typically sophisticated serial technique from Webern.
If Webern’s Op. 27 looks back to Brahms in its sense of motivic connectedness, it is perhaps possible to see the opening Intermezzo of Brahms’ Op. 119 looking forward to Webern. Both Opp. 118 and 119 were written in 1893 and are among Brahms’ final works. Brahms gives the sets the title of Klavierstücke – which Schoenberg would use later for his own works for solo piano.
Italian pianist Pina Napolitano made a splash with her debut CD in 2012: Norman Lebrecht featured her recording of Arnold Schoenberg’s complete piano works as his CD of the Week, shortlisting it for his Sinfini Music Album of the Year; Guy Rickards in International Piano Magazine called the CD “outstanding”, citing the “tensile strength to her playing that is distinctly hers”, and Calum MacDonald in BBC Music Magazine gave it five stars for its “rare penetration, understanding, grace and elegance.”
Booklet in English, German and French.
Program notes by Hugh Collins Rice.
“A masterful disc, free of Nordic fog or serial irritation, where the fullness of timbres is matched only by the mastery of musical conception.”
Musique Classique / Thierry Vagne / 26 March 2018
“In recent years, Pina Napolitano has been studying the Austro-German repertoire of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Second Viennese School. Here, she skilfully brings to light Brahms on one side and Berg and Webern on the other. It should be noted that Webern was 14 when Brahms died and, like Schoenberg, gave the very Brahmsian title of Klavierstück to some of his compositions.
Opp. 118 & 119 are works from the end of Brahms’ life, written in 1893 four years before he died. Pina Napolitano: “The greatest challenge for me in playing Brahms, and the thing which makes his music an inexhaustible source of wonder and stimulates continuous research, is trying to do justice to all of these aspects: the excruciating romantic beauty of melodic and timbral invention, the never-deformed classical proportions, the omnipresent counterpoint, and finally the elusively modern aspects. Brahms creates a miraculous equilibrium, in works which possess both immediate beauty and an essential simplicity.”
We can of course find renditions of great masters of the past with more Nordic colours here and more outbursts there, but Pina Napolitano’s reading shines through its clarity - and harmonies and counterpoint, without sacrificing the characterization of each piece (such as the magnificent Romance of Op. 118 or the compositional modernity of the Intermezzo that follows).
Between the Opp. 118 & 119 we therefore find three pieces by Webern: Kinderstück (1924), Satz für Klavier (1906) and Berg's Sonata (1908), Klavierstück (1925) and Webern's Variations Op. 27. I would have put Satz in first, as the most immediately Brahmsian and a work of youth created posthumously. I have rarely heard a Berg Sonata that was at once so eloquent and so palpable. The aphoristic Variations of Webern are also rendered in all their Brahmsian glory; Op. 119's attaca without waiting time is very effective.
A masterful disc, free of Nordic fog or serial irritation, where the fullness of timbres is matched only by the mastery of musical conception.”
“… the expressiveness that Napolitano brings to her interpretations of Brahms… reminds us that the immediate present of listening to her is just as vivid as Schoenberg’s immediate present when he listened to the late piano music of Brahms being played…”
The Rehearsal Studio / Stephen Smoliar / 26 March 2018
Napolitano’s Inventive Album of Time-Consciousness
This Friday Odradek Records will release its latest solo album of Italian pianist Pina Napolitano. Napolitano first came to my attention when Odradek released her recording of the complete piano music of Arnold Schoenberg, but I must confess that the cognitive scientist that continues to lurk within me was as interested in her background in Classical Philology as it was in her approach to playing Schoenberg’s music. In some respects the breadth of her scholarly background is as evident in her new album, entitled Brahms the Progressive and currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com, as it was in her Schoenberg album, if not more so.
Those not up on their Schoenberg may not know that the source of the title of this new album comes from Schoenberg himself. It was originally the title of a radio talk that Schoenberg delivered in 1933 as part of a celebration of the centennial of the birth of Johannes Brahms on May 7, 1833. This lecture took in more than most radio listeners could accommodate, but the world had to wait until 1950 for a printed version to appear in the collection Style and Idea. Schoenberg’s introductory note described it as “a fully reformulated version of my original lecture;” and it would be subsequently re-edited by Leonard Stein for an expanded edition of Style and Idea, which was first published in 1975.
There is much to be gained from reading this essay. On my first encounter, I was particularly aware that Schoenberg had as much to say about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as he had to say about Brahms. However, what struck me the most was the way in which he felt it was necessary to discuss the nature of composition for the sake of better informing the attentive listener. As a practicing musician with well-cultivated listening skills, Napolitano could approach the essay from a different point of view. As her album notes observe, hers was a perspective on the nature of time-consciousness or, as she put it, “the past continuously rethought, relived, and in a certain sense changed by the present.”
That perspective was given a more poetic account in the opening lines of “Burnt Norton,” the first of the Four Quartets poems by T. S. Eliot:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
For that matter, Eliot’s text amounts to a poetic account of the more prosaic text in the Confessions of Augustine of Hippo, analysis that is almost frighteningly consistent with what “wet brain” scientists have been discovering about time-consciousness over the last few decades.
Thus, when I listen to the two collections of short pieces by Brahms (Opera 118 and 119) on this new album, the act of doing so is informed by not only my own crude attempts to play these pieces some 30-odd years ago but also the many ways in which I have listened to performances since then, both in concert and on recording. Indeed, the same can be said of the recordings of the Opus 1 sonata of Alban Berg and Anton Webern’s Opus 27 “Variations for piano.” Indeed, I came to this album with listening experience of every selection, including the Webern pieces without opus numbers, the 1906 piece for piano, the 1924 “Piece for children,” and the 1925 piece “in the tempo of a minuet.”
As one who cannot overlook structural properties, I was struck by how the entire album was arranged. The Berg sonata served as the “keystone” of the album’s “arch” structure. It was preceded by the early Webern piece, which, in turn, was preceded by the 1924 piece, which might be called “a young person’s guide to the twelve-tone row.” On the other side the Berg sonata was followed by the “minuet tempo” piece, which was then followed by Opus 27. This Second Viennese School “core” was preceded by Opus 118 and followed by Opus 119.
I find it interesting that the Brahms’ pieces were all composed late in the composer’s life. Berg and Webern, on the other hand, were younger and going through periods of transition, many of which were influenced by their awareness of similar transitional efforts of Schoenberg, their shared teacher. Yet what pervades the entire album is a sense of music emerging from the “immediate present” of each of the composers, a “time present” with any number of different perspectives of “time past” while, perhaps, also thinking of the “time future” that will eventually “contain” their respective efforts.
Mind you, none of these abstruse philosophical perspectives need have any impact on how one actually listens to this new album. What is important is the expressiveness that Napolitano brings to her interpretations of Brahms, which reminds us that the immediate present of listening to her is just as vivid as Schoenberg’s immediate present when he listened to the late piano music of Brahms being played. Similarly, the vividness of that immediate present of Schoenberg and his pupils then “progresses” through time to become the immediate present in which Napolitano can play the works of all three of those composers. In other words the cognitive exercises that emerge from listening to this album’s scope of different “times past” may then result in a more informed approach to listening to Napolitano’s earlier all-Schoenberg album. All of those experiences may then resonate in subsequent acts of listening to just about any music from the nineteenth and earlier centuries.
“Superbly produced, recorded and with carefully considered repertoire, this is a disc of intense, infinitely rewarding music… This is great Brahms, up there with Gilels… Webern’s 1924 Kinderstück receives one of the finest performances in the catalogue…”
International Piano Magazine / Colin Clarke / July 2018
“Superbly produced, recorded and with carefully considered repertoire, this is a disc of intense, infinitely rewarding music. Brahms’s six Klavierstücke Op 118 are, arguably, the greatest challenge of Brahms’ late works — especially No 6, which inhabits a world all of its own. Napolitano realises the individuality of each movement yet also manages to trace a trajectory that moves inexorably onwards. The famous A major is given with ultimate sensitivity. This is great Brahms, up there with Gilels. Napolitano’s Op. 119 is just as fine.
Webern’s 1924 Kinderstück receives one of the finest performances in the catalogue: the composer’s innate, cantabile lyricism is captured, for once, on piano; while Webern’s late-Romantic 1906 Satz für Klavier with its ﬂowing lines, is the ideal preface to Napolitano’s persuasive performance of Berg’s Sonata.”
“… in her previous releases, [Pina Napolitano] was praised for her incredible sensitivity, understanding, elegant and expressive playing, as heard on this third album.”
MDR Klassik - Das Werk - Neuer Bereich / June 2018
“Time passes in two directions on the new album by the Italian Pina Napolitano: Brahms from the future of modern Vienna and vice versa, looking at the Second Viennese School from the past of Brahms Romanticism.
Pina Napolitano’s third album is titled “Brahms The Progressive”, but in addition to works by Brahms, it also contains pieces by Anton Webern and Alban Berg. The title is taken directly from an essay by Arnold Schoenberg, who in “Brahms, the Progressive” detected and praised numerous progressive elements in the pieces of the composer, described as a conservative romantic one. In opposition to this opinion, Pina Napolitano is now looking for a romantic echo in the piano works of the Second Viennese School.
Pina Napolitano was born in Caserta in the Italian region of Campania, near Naples, and studied piano and literature as well as languages - becoming finally a Doctor of Philosophy.
Already in her previous releases, she was praised for her incredible sensitivity, understanding, elegant and expressive playing, as heard on this third album.”
“Pina Napolitano, a grandchild of Michelangelo, has made a name for herself with good sounding and colourful recordings of works by the Second Viennese School. With this new release, she links important pieces by Alban Berg and Anton Webern with the late piano pieces by Brahms…”
Fono Forum - Ingo Harden / May 2018
“Pina Napolitano, a grandchild of Michelangelo, has made a name for herself with good sounding and colourful recordings of works by the Second Viennese School. With this new release, she links important pieces by Alban Berg and Anton Webern with the late piano pieces by Brahms, described freely as the “Progressive”. Napolitano's Brahms reveals on closer listening some weaknesses: small dynamic range, too little differences between legato and staccato and too many unequal chords. In general, however, her free-flowing, plain recorded playing of the music of both styles is very vivid.”
“Listen to how the Variations’ final bars smoothly slip into those fragile descending arpeggios… what a magical transition! … She revels in the Variations’ distinct dynamic plateaus and makes the composer’s different accentuations clearly distinct.”
Gramophone - Jed Distler
For her third Odradek CD release, Pina Napolitano presents an intriguing playlist. She opens with Brahms’s Op 118 Piano Pieces, then follows them with two posthumously published Webern works, the sparse little 12 note Kinderstück and the early, slightly Brahmsian Satz für Klavier. That piece assiduously leads into Berg’s Op 1 Sonata. The posthumous Webern Klavierstück in Minuet Tempo is cut from the same stylistic cloth as the Variations, Op 27, up ahead. Listen to how the Variations’ final bars smoothly slip into those fragile descending arpeggios at the outset of Brahms’s Op 119 group – what a magical transition! And Op 119 never fails as a concert ender, mainly due to the pomp and swagger of No 4’s outer sections.
Napolitano fares strongest in the Webern and Berg works. She revels in the Variations’ distinct dynamic plateaus and makes the composer’s different accentuations clearly distinct. However, a faster tempo for the Sehr schnell movement would have better underlined the music’s lilting humour in the manner of, say, Charles Rosen or Peter Serkin. The pianist shapes the Berg Sonata’s introspective writing into expansive arcs, although stronger left-hand profiling from Hélène Grimaud (DG) and Dénes Varjón (ECM, 6/12) better drive the central climax’s momentum forwards.
Perhaps it’s the slightly dry engineering talking, but much of Napolitano’s Brahms is loose-limbed, wan and, at times, technically uneven. For example, she frequently breaks Op 118 No 2’s long lines as if running out of breath, losing tonal focus at phrase ends. No 3’s flattened-out main section and texturally uniform Trio pale next to Nelson Freire’s vitality and clarity (Decca, A/17), while only No 4’s soft passages generate palpable agitato tension. In Op 119 No 3 Napolitano has trouble maintaining the right hand’s melody/lower voice and shifting left-hand accompaniment in perspective; whenever a left-hand crescendo kicks in, the right hand fades out of focus. By contrast, Emanuel Ax’s interpretation (Sony) is a paradigm of control and grace. It must be said that Napolitano navigated similar challenges more successfully in her solo Schoenberg debut release, which is all the more reason why her Brahms should have been better.