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Blessed with a prodigious technique that saw him take the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow (1986), Barry Douglas seemed to allow musicality to come second best in the early days of his career. He has recently taken some time away from the recording studio. It was, it seems, time well spent, for this disc (the first volume of the compete Brahms piano music) reveals Douglas as a new, mature musician. He says in the booklet, ‘I treasure every phrase, I love every note’, something he communicates to the listener.

The programming is interesting, for Douglas splits constituent parts of sets, juxtaposing and intermingling Rhapsody with Intermezzo, Ballade and Capriccio before rounding off with the great Handel Variations. The excellent Chandos recording captures Douglas’s sound perfectly. His tone is more burnished than I have heard it previously (although there is still an occasional tendency to harden in the higher registers in loud passages), and so suits late Brahms’s crepuscularity. His technique is a strong as ever. Perhaps the greatest surprise is Douglas’s ability to conjure up fragility (Op 116 No 4).

The Capriccio Op 116 No 1 and the G minor Rhapsody introduce a more muscular stratum. The Variations hold huge variety. Douglas is charming in Handel’s theme and revels in the subsequent expansion into true Brahmsian territory. Douglas’s achievement is that he creates a real sense of space, of breadth of thought. Textures are clean, and the fugue is masterly shaped. The second volume is eagerly awaited.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing