Music by and Inspired by Brahms
Steven Masi piano (Navona Records)

This unique release celebrates the highly introspective solo piano music of Johannes Brahms, as well as the ties that bind across the ages, with two new contemporary works inspired by the late romantic composer included as paired “companion pieces.”

American pianist Steven Masi brings out the rich tonal colours and sonorities of each of the larger-scale Brahms offerings ostensibly now serving as prototypes, including his Three Intermezzi, Op. 117, regarded a cornerstone of the repertoire. In turn, Brahmsiana II, written by Robert Chumbley, offers a shimmering distillation of the earlier work’s brooding ethos, with the pianist further heightening Brahms’ unabashed lyricism while harnessing a wholly contemporary musical language particularly evident during the central Scherzo.

The second Brahms work, his Six Klavierstucke, Op. 118, returns listeners to the older world, once again brought to life by Masi with limpid expressiveness. He displays his luminous tone and arching phrasing during each of its six movements, with No. 2 Intermezzo in A Major and thepenultimate No. 5, Romance in F major becoming album highlights, contrasted by his rhythmically crisp No. 3 Ballade in B minor, and a particularly exultant No. 1 Intermezzo in A minor showcasing his technical prowess.

Its partner piece, the four-movement Echoes of Youth composed by Jonathan Cziner, resonates as an authentic response to the decidedly tonally based romanticism of the Brahms, including stark dissonances given wide berth with his sparser writing style. Of Cziner’s own suite, the opening Romance — its cascades of sound fully exploiting the full range of the keyboard — proves deeply felt emotionalism speaks across time and space, and in whichever dialect one might be uttering one’s own longings of the heart.


STREAM THIS: Romance from Jonathan Cziner’s Echoes of Youth


Holly Harris