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Program notes by the performer:
The Four Ballades, op. 10, are the work of the ardent young Brahms, full of passion, drama, and lyrical beauty, characteristic of the full flowering of German Romanticism. Brahms’s Ballades aim to tell stories through music – as do the more well-known Ballades of Chopin – but specific stories are unknown, with the exception of the first one, “Edward,” which is based on a Scottish ballad. Edward’s mother inquires why Edward’s sword is stained with blood; as her questions become more persistent, the horrible truth comes out: he has killed his father. The intense drama of the music befits the tale. The second Ballade is the most varied of the set, and has all the makings of a bedtime story, with various dramatic episodes, though everything ends quite peacefully. The child presumably has fallen asleep. The third piece is not really a Ballade at all, but a fiery Intermezzo filled with angular rhythmic displacements. Its interlude reflects the majestic spaciousness characteristic of early Brahms. The fourth Ballade is clearly a sung story rather than a spoken one. The most extraordinary feature of this work is its concluding section in triplets, a prolonged intimate meditation. It is both sublimely beautiful and deeply moving.
Live performance at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore, Maryland, unedited. Sean Finn, recording engineer, remastered for digital release by Aramus Recordings (2018).
Matthew Bengtson is a Steinway Artist, performing here on Peabody’s Steinway D piano.