Brahms Late Piano Works

Started by Todd, March 25, 2023, 04:40:05 AM

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Todd

When I first bought Stephen Hough's late Brahms, I thought it needed an A/B.  I originally planned to compare it to Anna Gourari's take, but then when I revisited her recording, it left a bigger impression than I thought it would, so I decided to morph the A/B into a survey.  The focus is recordings of the complete set of works from Op 116 through Op 119, but I will throw in some incomplete sets because, well, because. 




My memory of Ms Gourari's disc was that in the faster, more energetic recordings she pushes things hard and becomes almost overbearing.  That's not to say her playing sounds hard or that she bangs away, but rather there's a relentlessness to some of her playing.  Call that her Brahmsian Florestan, for her other musical personality is Brahmsian Eusebius as she plays with great nuance and tenderness in many of the slower pieces.  One needn't wait more that the first two pieces, with a near jack-hammer opening Capriccio blasting the listeners ears.  Blasting in a pleasant way.  It is Presto energico, after all.  Then comes the first Intermezzo, and it's an Andante, and her playing changes completely, with superb playing in the pianissimo to mezzo-piano range, and her playing slows – not too much – and sounds right.  She goes one better a couple pieces later in the Adagio, which begins to approach what Volodos does in late Brahms, something she continues in the Andante con grazia ed intimissimo sentiment.  When she closes out Op 116, the Allegro agitato sounds agitated, indeed, and has whiffs of Kreisleriana within, though informed by one too many (or one too few) Red Bulls.  Gourari coaxes great and gentle beauty out of the Andante moderato of Op 117, and the clarity of her fingerwork in the second piece while playing softly is quite fine, and then in the last of the works, the way she dispatches the highest register notes at varying dynamic levels sounds nifty.  The first Intermezzo in Op 118 and the Ballade display more drive and bite, but everything else sounds sublimely beautiful, the Romanze especially.  In Op 119, she sort of delivers late Brahms with a late-LvB transcendence until the concluding Rhapsodie, which comes off as a triumphant march.  Overall, this set has improved with age.  This is helped by top notch Berlin Classics sound.

The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

George

I am always on the lookout for for more late Brahms piano works recordings. I have yet to find someone who nails them all for me, but some come close - Angelich, Lupu and Gould come to mind. To a lesser extent, I also like Backhaus, Kovacevich, Alexeev and Rudy.

Will be watching this survey.   
"I can't live without music, because music is life." - Yvonne Lefébure

San Antone

I am impressed by Volodos, along with Stephen Kovacevich. 

Håkon Austbø is also among my more recent go-to recordings. 

But like you Angelich and Lupu were always among my favorites.

Sentimental favorite: Lars Vogt.

Back in the day it was Aldo Ciccolini, but he was my favorite pianist for just about everything from Satie to Mozart for a while.

I always thought Wilhelm Kempff played Brahms well. 

My first collection of Brahms piano works was the box by Julius Katchen.  Still listen to it.

Todd



David Korevaar is reliable guy.  Not a big name, he has turned in good stuff in every recording I've heard, and his style seems suited to Brahms.  He starts Op 116 with a most capricious Capriccio, playing quickly, lightly, and almost prankishly.  The first Intermezzo starts off fairly zippy and tense, and not until the middle does he slow way down and go for beauty.  The tension returns in the second Capriccio, though in the second Intermezzo he goes for an all-beautiful approach.  But he eschews excess pedaling and his right hand playing retains some tanginess.  The tension returns in the following Intermezzo, as he methodically and stiltingly moves forward.  Korevaar plays with notable but perfectly controlled tension and drama in the final Capriccio, which belies a Schumann influence.  Autumnal Brahms arrives in Op 117, though Korevaar maintains tension and doesn't go for notably slow tempi.  In Op 118, the Ballade gets pumped out with enough force and power, but he plays the Allegretto un poco agitato with no little oomph, too.  Not until one arrives at the B Minor Intermezzo, with precise yet gentle fingerwork to open does one arrive a sublime, tensionless playing again, and even that doesn't last.  But Korevaar knows how far to go.  He ramps back up in the E Minor, and some little touches, like one heckuva crisp but not overdone right hand arpeggio catch the ear.  He eases up slightly in the penultimate piece, and then delivers a punchy, weighty final Rhapsodie.  Nice, if not Gourari nice.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Todd





Stephen Kovacevich brings his A-game, teeth-gnashing, hyperintense aggressive playing to the opening Capriccio in Op 116, thrusting the music at the listener, and then offers a hugely contrasted, much softer first Intermezzo.  It does not sound as sublime as Gourari, but the sheer contrast does work well.  The second Capriccio then jars the listener.  And the pattern repeats.  Kovacevich sounds much more beautiful than typical in the Intermezzi, demonstrating a gentle and nuanced touch closer to what he delivered in recital than he usually does on disc, but again he jars the listener with the opening of the final Capriccio.  No jarring occurs in Op 117, which sounds beautiful start to finish, and the second one takes on a lullaby feel at times, while in the third he scales up some passages without sounding hard or glassy.  The first Op 118 Intermezzo does growl a bit, breaking from the more nuanced take of the first two batches of works.  He returns to gentle playing with the second piece, and then jars again in the Ballade.  The final Intermezzo blends both approaches, sounding ethereal and dreamy to start, and end, with thundering playing in the middle.  Op 119 displays the widest stylistic contrast, with Mr Bishop playing the three Intermezzi as beautifully as anything he has done on disc, with real gentleness and tenderness even, and then he hammers out the concluding Rhapsodie.  The best playing here rates as some of the best Brahms available. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

AaronSF



I am a little surprised that no one has mentioned Julius Katchen's Brahms.  It was the first complete Brahms solo piano music I encountered, and I think it is one of the best.

I do like Lupu, Kovacevitch, Korevaar, and recently, Paul Lewis and Stephen Hough.  I even find Glenn Gould's Brahms better than one would expect.  But I always come back to Katchen's Brahms as my reference point.


San Antone

Quote from: AaronSF on March 27, 2023, 01:14:46 PMI am a little surprised that no one has mentioned Julius Katchen's Brahms. 

I mentioned it.

Holden

I've come to Brahms solo piano music a bit later in life and am a devoted fan. Julius Katchen has always been high on my list and of all his recorded Brahmas there is not a single clunker.

Of all the other pianists I've heard there none do the complete works so it's who I like in a limited variety and of course Op 116 to Op 119 has many fine performers. Nicholas Angelich is one and I just wish that Gilels had recorded much more of this repertoire. I have all the Kempff and also rate it highly. Finally I have Radu Lupu who is also a fine Brahmsian.
Cheers

Holden

Todd



Andrea Bonnata launches with a somewhat slow, halting, less intense opening Capriccio in Op 116, though it sounds big and broad.  The following Intermezzo sounds lovely, but the tradeoff is that there is less contrast until the playing drifts off a bit.  The second Capriccio lacks heft but has sufficiently biting upper registers.  As he plays more Intermezzi, Bonatta's Brahms sort of exemplifies an autumnal approach, which here means languid tempi and not much contrast.  While his playing sounds appealing, it can't match Kovacevich, let alone Gourari, for tonal finesse.  The concluding Capriccio sounds less fluid and less Schumannesque than any version to this point.  Op 117 takes the languid style a bit further and works a bit better.  Op 118 starts off the same way, but the Ballade here sounds too constrained dynamically and stiffly played, at least in the more robust music.  Op 119 more or less follows the same pattern, though the first two Intermezzi are very nice, and the Rhapsodie sounds clunky.  Not the best set. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Elk

I have Kovacevich early and late, Angelich, Ax, Grimaud, Lupu, Katchen, and Alexeev in my collection. I have always had a weakness for Kovacevich's earlier recordings from '69 and '71, but the Alexeev is also very fine, as is the recent Volodos, which I have heard on Spotify.

Todd






Time for a grand old man of the German piano school.  Wilhelm Backhaus of course witnessed Brahms conducting his own piano concertos, and he grew up in and learned piano in late 19th and early 20th Century Germany, so he had an idea how the composer's music should go.  Such experience may not necessarily translate into superior playing.  Well, I mean, here it kinda does.  The earlier 30s recordings show the middle-age pianist to be in fine form.  His tempi are quick overall, which becomes more evident in the Intermezzi, but there's more than that.  First, the opening Capriccio of Op 116 has fire and drive, but Backhaus does not push forward as relentlessly as Gourari, to say nothing of Kovacevich.  The first Intermezzo has that slight quickness, but it sounds lovely and introspective, and 116/4 even more so.  In Op 117, things seem a bit rushed at time, especially in 117/2, but the way that Backhaus blends the peppy tempo and the nuanced dynamic shifts and maintains an appealing tone, not at all masked due to some fine transfers, really works.  In the 118/2 Ballade, Backhaus' dynamic control and forward propulsion sound extraordinary, and the way he transitions in short phases to the slower music sounds seamless and live, which it is.  118/6 offers an essentially perfect blending of almost dreamy slow playing that segues perfectly to, and then back from, tempestuous playing in the middle section.  Nice.  The three Op 119 selections all demonstrate the same old-timey goodness as the other works.  The Naxos disc includes fourteen of the twenty late pieces, but that's more than enough to demonstrate that Backhaus' late Brahms is top notch.

The Decca recording contains only half the works, though it starts off with all of Op 118.  The overall approach is similar to the earlier recordings, but the delivery sounds a bit less fluid and a bit slower overall.  That written, 117/1 just kinds of slowly entrances the listener with its simplicity.  Recorded sound is superior, of course.  While it's obviously best to have both recordings, the earlier recordings are superior overall.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Mandryka

Quote from: Todd on March 29, 2023, 04:23:23 AM






Time for a grand old man of the German piano school.  Wilhelm Backhaus of course witnessed Brahms conducting his own piano concertos, and he grew up in and learned piano in late 19th and early 20th Century Germany, so he had an idea how the composer's music should go.  Such experience may not necessarily translate into superior playing.  Well, I mean, here it kinda does.  The earlier 30s recordings show the middle-age pianist to be in fine form.  His tempi are quick overall, which becomes more evident in the Intermezzi, but there's more than that.  First, the opening Capriccio of Op 116 has fire and drive, but Backhaus does not push forward as relentlessly as Gourari, to say nothing of Kovacevich.  The first Intermezzo has that slight quickness, but it sounds lovely and introspective, and 116/4 even more so.  In Op 117, things seem a bit rushed at time, especially in 117/2, but the way that Backhaus blends the peppy tempo and the nuanced dynamic shifts and maintains an appealing tone, not at all masked due to some fine transfers, really works.  In the 118/2 Ballade, Backhaus' dynamic control and forward propulsion sound extraordinary, and the way he transitions in short phases to the slower music sounds seamless and live, which it is.  118/6 offers an essentially perfect blending of almost dreamy slow playing that segues perfectly to, and then back from, tempestuous playing in the middle section.  Nice.  The three Op 119 selections all demonstrate the same old-timey goodness as the other works.  The Naxos disc includes fourteen of the twenty late pieces, but that's more than enough to demonstrate that Backhaus' late Brahms is top notch.

The Decca recording contains only half the works, though it starts off with all of Op 118.  The overall approach is similar to the earlier recordings, but the delivery sounds a bit less fluid and a bit slower overall.  That written, 117/1 just kinds of slowly entrances the listener with its simplicity.  Recorded sound is superior, of course.  While it's obviously best to have both recordings, the earlier recordings are superior overall.


I wonder whether those tempos in the Backhaus are what he wanted, or whether they were speeded up for the sake of fitting it on the records. I quite like it in a way.

But I really wanted to say is: have a listen to that Kubalek LP of op 116 I posted on MY late Brahms thread. It's fabulous!
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

Todd

#12


Now it's time for the underappreciated Walter Klien.  Alas, the recorded sound of his Brahms is quite poor.  Eh, whatcha gonna do?  Klien starts off with a heavy, slow, lumbering, loud un-capricious Capriccio in 116, but somehow, and I'm not sure how, he pulls it off.  He pulls off the first of the Intermezzi as well, though here it's easy to hear how, just as one can hear how Esteban Sanchez works magic in his poor sounding recordings.  Klien's playing displays a deliberate approach, and heaps o' nuance.  The second Capriccio sounds a bit slow and massively scaled, and it flows wonderfully, and it contrasts spectacularly well.  It's a leisurely Adagio that epitomizes a contemplative, "autumnal" sound.  The playing maintains a broad, dynamically varied style throughout each piece, though sometimes like in the D Minor Intermezzo, the tape overload and distortion actively detracts from the music.  Klien brings the Schumannesque sound to the concluding Capriccio quite nicely.  All three Op 117 Intermezzi are taken at a measured tempo and sound dark hued and introspective, with sublime phrasing and perfectly extended pauses and tapering.  A dramatic open to 118 quickly gives way to the slower, more relaxed style until the Ballade arrives, which sort of just ramps up the contrast to the point of tape overload.  Then there follows beauty after beauty, reaching an apogee in the gorgeous, legato laden Romanze.  In Op 119, it's more of the same, with a slow, slow open to the first Intermezzo where every note gets its due, but distortion is omnipresent.  So good is the playing, that one forgets it.  When he arrives at the slower than normal concluding Rhapsodie, he plays the middle so beautifully and with such taste and restraint, that it adds a little something to the piece that mere potency would not.  The Klien complete set has been my (poor sounding) reference since I first bought it.  Listening anew reinforces that status.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Todd



Jonas Vitaud, like Backhaus, does not cover all of the late works in his recital, but he covers fourteen, excluding most of Op 116, so I'll include him anyway.  After excellent renditions of the Op 79 Rhapsodies to open, one gets to Op 117.  The Frenchie's strengths are obvious and immediate.  Vitaud's playing in the Intermezzi is some of the most beautiful, gentlest, tenderest out there, at times coming close to matching the twin titans Volodos and Paik.  He takes his time, but he doesn't sound slow and the playing never drags.  In passages where he holds a note or a chord just that little bit extra, it's just enough to notice, but not enough to do anything other than invite silent nods of approval.  Op 118 has a bit more heft in the opening Intermezzo, but it is not a truly hard-hitting version, and as it transitions into the second, the playing sort of lulls one into a haze, with calm beauty prevailing.  The Ballade arrives, and the middle registers bring the listener to full, rapt attention, and then it's back to becalming beauty, though with a smidge more tension than before.  The Romanze sounds light, playful, and evokes images of romantic tomfoolery – the best kind.  No heavy, serious Brahms this.  Moments of hushed darkness fade in and out of the following Intermezzo on the way to some powerful forte playing.  The Op 119 Intemezzo in C displays lightness, caprice, and grace, making for a perfect light ending before the very swift and pointed concluding Rhapsodie arrives.  The Op 116 E Major Andantino teneramente closes things out as a sort of encore, returning things to calm and beauty. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Todd



Garrick Ohlsson's turn, and his is another incomplete set, though that don't matter for my purposes.  Ohlsson thunders in the opening Capriccio, generating an enormous sonority without sounding hard at all.  While swift, his overall tempo is not even close to the fastest version, but it sounds faster than it is.  The first Intermezzo sounds more relaxed and attractive, but it remains tenser than most versions, only really turning to gentle playing around two minutes in.  The right hand playing in the second Capriccio has an intensity and urgency that even Kovacevich can't surpass.  Finally, things relax a bit in the E Major Intermezzo, though the at times bright right hand playing keeps this from sounding particularly relaxed in places.  The E Minor Intermezzo, while nicely paced, does not really live up to the Andante con grazia ed intimissimo sentiment designation, with purposely stiff and somewhat biting playing.  It works, just in an unexpected way.  The last Intermezzo is the loveliest, and then in the closing Capriccio, Ohlsson reminds the listener of his virtuosic bona fides, so often held under wraps, as he unleashes the opening few moments in a ferocious Schumannesque manner.  Op 117 finds Ohlsson adopting broader tempi and relying more on tonally lustrous and beautiful playing, but he never abandons harder hitting playing in passages.  And it has impact to match anyone's, lending something of an angry or forlorn feel to some passages.  This is not untroubled music.  Weight, scale, and broad playing announce the arrival of Op 118.  Things back off to some tender playing in the second Intermezzo, but then thunder reappears with the Ballade, where it again sounds faster than it is, and it scales to match Brahms' piano sonatas.  He then cranks out big, rich, slowish Intermezzi,  until the towering, massive, thundering sixth one, which again goes for the quasi-symphonic scale of the piano sonatas.  Indeed, one byproduct of listening to this recording is to make me want to hear Ohlsson's recordings of the sonatas.  To end the disc, Ohlsson tacks on a similarly large scale reading of the Op 4 Scherzo.  This disc offers a master class in big, bold, brawny Brahms playing.  Nice.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Todd



Gerhard Oppitz from his complete Brahms set.  Oppitz's opening to the first Capriccio is the most aggressive and intense thus far, though part of that is due to the metallic recorded sound.  It nearly makes one gnash one's teeth, but it doesn't have the musical payoff that Kovacevich's does.  The first Intermezzo backs off, but retains a harder sound, and a less nuanced style.  The second Capriccio does have plenty of bite in the upper registers, but, partly due to recording and partly due to delivery, it lacks the punch of Ohlsson.  The Intermezzi that follow all maintain a metallic sound and almost sectionalized feel, with transitions not particularly appealing.  The final Capriccio tips over into outright ugly and vulgar playing.  In contrast, Oppitz opens Op 117 with a sluggish first Intermezzo that still doesn't convey much attractiveness.  The second and third fare a bit better, but still sound a bit sluggish.  Finally, in the opening Intermezzo of Op 118 there's some musically satisfying playing, as Oppitz goes for a large-scale approach and doesn't bang too hard, and the second sounds nice enough.  Gale force playing returns in the Ballade, with no real payoff.  The slower playing does sound nice enough in the following Intermezzi, and in the final piece Oppitz creates weight and scale approaching Ohlsson, though it lacks the musical satisfaction.  The pianist saves his best for last, opening Op 119 with an Intermezzo that sounds almost beautiful.  The playing veers close to the unappealing in the second piece, but stays mostly nice, and the same is mostly true of the third, which has the benefit of some nice rhythmic drive.  The concluding Rhapsodie predictably sounds loud and aggressive and harsh in places.  Overall, not my favorite Brahms playing.  Maybe my least favorite.  Meaning definitely my least favorite.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Todd



Hélène Grimaud, from her young hot shot days.  Grimaud, closely recorded, goes for the throat in the opening Capriccio, playing as intensely as Kovacevich, but also displaying an admirable flexibility in terms of dynamics and rubato.  The first Intermezzo slows things down but continues to display the same traits.  I've always associated Grimaud with a bright sound, and in the quieter moments she delivers that style, but she also veers, however briefly, into a dreamier soundworld.  She creates a satisfyingly large sonority in the second Capriccio which also propels forward with a nice inevitability.  The second Intermezzo has much lovely playing, but Grimuad is always ready to roar, which she does, but her transitions work very well, indeed.  She eases into a more autumnal style until unloading in the final Capriccio, which sounds less Schumannesque and more blocky and rushed.   Normally, that would be bad, but that's not the case here.  Grimaud's Op 117 sounds light, bright, lovely, a bit tense, and surface only, but again, that's not an issue here.   The third piece manages to sound bright and dark at the same time, which is  cool.  She starts off Op 118 with a brisk, sweeping, at times brittle Intermezzo, then settles down for a bit before delivering a blistering Ballade, with an alternately lively and tempestuous follow-up Intermezzo.  The Romanze sounds fairly thick and heavy and rich, and if not autumnal, then at least somber.  By the time she gets to the final piece, she does a slightly brighter and tenser take than Ohlsson, which is amplified by the close recording.  Grimaud ends with an Op 119 that rarely strays below mf for long, and she keeps things tense and fairly weighty.  The Rhapsodie packs something of a wallop, not surprisingly.  An excellent set.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Todd



I decided to stream Hortense Cartier-Bresson's set because of that last name.  Per Wikipedia, she is indeed related to the great man, but I find it hard to believe she is his cousin.  Whatever the case, she rose to brief, regional fame in 1981 at the Liszt-Bartok competition, which resulted in an LP release featuring her and Mūza Rubackytė.  She recorded a couple things for Accord and now a couple things for Aparte, so she rarely visits the recording studio, which is no big thing.  What's her playing like?

Ms Cartier-Bresson, spaciously recorded, goes for a broad approach right from the opening Capriccio.  She does not offer the huge dynamic range of Ohlsson or the magnified scale of Grimaud, and she effectively masks her fairly long timing by keeping tempi in proper, or at least appealing proportion.  Slower approaches tend to work better in the Intermezzi, and one hears that immediately here.  There's a contemplative air.  This is autumnal Brahms.  The second Capriccio sounds blended, almost a wash of notes, combining the recorded sound and playing, and it works well enough.  It works even better in the languid, dreamy three Intermezzi that follow, with one beauty following another.  HCB's concluding Capriccio is rather unlike any up to this point.  Dynamics are limited, legato generous, pedaling notable, and a more Eusebian than normal Schumannesque sound permeates.  All of Op 117 is one big, lovely, gentle cloud of music, with only a few hints of bold sound.  The propensity to slowness reaches an apogee in Op 118, which starts very slowly, though very evenly, in the Allegro-less opening A Minor Intermezzo.  Somehow it works pretty well.  The second Intermezzo introduces playing that could reasonably be described as billowy.  In the Ballade, HBC shows she can play with verve and weight if she wants to, so she's  playing the way she wants.  She plays slow and lovely right through to the end, with the concluding Intermezzo sounding slow to the point of droning, with ample pedaling in places, though she does build up to a satisfying climax before trailing off to slow, lovely silence.

This is an intriguing recording.  I do have a certain fondness for late Brahms emphasizing beauty, but it can go too far (well, not really), and it shouldn't sound too slow (unless it should).  In most ways, HBC goes too far and plays too slow, but this is still a nice enough recording.  I can't rate it top notch, but I can nonetheless see myself revisiting it on multiple occasions. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Todd



I've waited long enough to hear Mr Hough.  The opening Capriccio is fast, fast, fast, with a jittery left hand playing and superb dynamic gradations, and fortissimo blasts to nearly rival Ohlsson.  The first Intermezzo cools things off, yet maintains some tension, and Hough brings attention to some little details, as when he plays some arpeggios quite distinctively but  discreetly.  Clarity is paramount, introspection or poetry less so.  The second Capriccio brings whiffs of Chopin's Op 58 at propels forward nicely.  Hough sounds more relaxed and refined in the second Intermezzo, but it also sounds a bit detached.  The next two sound similar.  Hough then amps up in the final Capriccio, but he sounds more restrained than in the first two, and slightly stretches out the middle section, delivering copious clarity, and his transition back to full scale playing smacks of Schumann's Op 11.  Nice.  Op 117 starts off with a quicker than normal open to the first piece, which Hough then expertly contrasts with the somber slower section, before returning to a peppy lullaby style.  The second again starts somewhat quick and stays that way, though the coda trails off beautifully.  The third piece maintains the swift, lithe style and similarly ends with a slower coda.  Op 118 starts off with a sort of bang.  The Intermezzo is nicely paced, slightly swift, but it is the rubato and the tapering, so smooth, so elegant that catches the ear.  No one else does it like this.  The A Major Intermezzo sounds ravishingly beautiful start to finish, while the Ballade has weight and punch without overdoing it.  The Romanze stands out, not for gloppy gorgeousness, but for gentle left-hand support and beautiful right hand playing.  And the final Intermezzo takes on a pristine and dreamy feel, like a cleaner Michel Block, or something, until it ramps up to thundering, bright, weighty playing.  Op 119 retains almost all the beauty of Op 118, and it possesses a sense of lightness.  No too-heavy late music here.  The Rhapsodie has the requisite wallop to please, but it's the middle section that dazzles, with delicious right-hand arpeggios.  Top notch.  While this is not my overall favorite set of late Brahms, it potentially one ups Hough's Mompou overall to become the best solo recording of his that I have heard, and Op 118 itself is easily the best thing I've heard from Hough.  It is one of the best versions of that collection of pieces I've heard.   
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Luke

Just to say, reading and loving this thread. Thanks.