Nelson Freire was only 23 when he recorded his first album, an LP of Brahms, comprising the F minor sonata and two shorter pieces.

Now, at 72, the Brazilian pianist revisits the German composer, with the same sonata complemented by the more generous selection of other music that a 74-minute CD permits.

For Freire, this returning is like a vision of a huge mountain, initially seen from far away but now, by coming closer to it, subtler details are revealed in its landscape.

Brahms was only 20 when he composed the F minor sonata, a work that combines the monumental and the fiery, written in the inevitable shadow of Beethoven. It springs to new life with the volatile Freire, who uncovers rare poetry in its shortest movement, a fleeting Intermezzo, a meeting ground of elegy and funeral march.


The disc's dozen short pieces stress the dreamy, introspective side of the composer, even if Freire storms magnificently in the Ballade from Opus 118 and the Rhapsody that closes Opus 119.

The quartet of pieces from Opus 119, Brahms' final work for piano, opens with a particular tender Adagio.

The composer said he wanted this to be played as if the melancholy were being slowly and irrevocably sucked out of each note. By doing so, the tingling dissonances that Freire liberates make one realise this music is every bit as radical and modern for its times as that of Wagner.

Freire has a soft spot for intermezzi and there are eight lingering beauties in this collection. In the A major work of Opus 118, one almost feels a waltz is trying to break free, a hint of what's coming up in the album's final track, when Brahms' most popular waltz from Opus 39 proves a delightful built-in encore for a spellbinding recital.

What: Nelson Freire, Brahms (Decca)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: Brazilian pianist triumphantly revisits the Brahms that launched his career.