Brahms: Dark Midnight (In Finstrer Mitternacht) – Op. 5, Op . 79, Op. 1

Nils Anders Mortensen

(4 press reviews)
Original Recording Format: DXD
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In the Spring of 1853, the twenty-year-old Johannes Brahms embarked on a concert tour of his native Germany with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi. During their travels Brahms met the renowned violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, whom he had heard five years earlier in a performance of Beethoven’s violin concerto.

The two took to each other immediately, and Joachim was deeply impressed by what he heard of the young Brahms: “…and his compositions display such meaningfulness as I have never before seen in such a young artist,” he is reported to have commented. The following summer Joachim and Brahms spent several weeks together and laid the foundation of a friendship that was to last almost half a century. On the strength of his reputation as a renowned and respected performer, Joachim wrote a number of introductory letters on behalf of Brahms, including one to Robert and Clara Schumann. And in September of that same year Brahms met the Schumanns for the first time.

Johannes Brahms’ Sonata no. 3 for piano, opus 5, bears impressive testament to the young composer’s formidable gift as a composer and pianist. “In its heroic scale, unconventional layout, and high quality of thought it was one of the most impressive sonatas since those of Beethoven and Schubert,” writes music critic Calum MacDonald, who further suggests that Brahms wrote his sonata as a response to Liszt’s B minor sonata, which Brahms had heard Liszt play in the summer of 1853. The sonata opus 5 was the last work for solo piano in the genre that Brahms would write.

The two Rhapsodies op. 79 were composed in 1879 when Brahms was in his mid-forties and at the peak of his career. These two compositions are the largest free-standing single-movement piano pieces Brahms had written since the Scherzo, op. 4. The Rhapsodies are dedicated to Elizabeth von Herzogenberg, Brahms’ student, and lover.

For the Ballad op. 10, no. 1, Brahms was inspired by the Scottish ballad Edward (which he later set for vocal duet in his opus 75).

Nils Anders Mortensen – Piano


Please note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Zwei Rhapsodien, op.79- Nr. 1. Agitato
Zwei Rhapsodien, op.79- Nr. 2. Molto passionato, ma non troppo allegro
Sonate Nr. 3, op. 5- I. Allegro maestoso
Sonate Nr. 3, op. 5- II. Andante espressivo
Sonate Nr. 3, op. 5- III. Scherzo
Sonate Nr. 3, op. 5- IV. Intermezzo (R?ckblick)
Sonate Nr. 3, op. 5- V. Finale
Ballade op. 10- Nr. 1

Total time: 00:58:29

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Original Recording Format

Release DateMarch 3, 2021

Press reviews

MusicWeb International 5 out of 5

Recording of the Month

I’ve come across Nils Anders Mortensen as an accompanist on some nice vocal recitals with mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland on the Lawo label. This is not his solo debut, but careful selection and preparation of repertoire clearly stands above massive productivity for this artist.

Mortensen takes the Agitato marking of the First Rhapsody less impetuously than some at the outset, preferring to reserve his dynamics for a ‘real’ f ten bars in. This is playing with plenty of power, though the emphasis is more on the moments of beauty than on the more overtly extrovert peaks. I like this well considered, poetic approach, and this carries through to the Second Rhapsody in which the drama sizzles underneath rather than being pitched with fury. Mortensen gives himself plenty of places to go, rather than ending up in a constant retreat from too explosive an exposition. This is thoughtful, exploratory Brahms, and while you may not agree with every rubato has much to commend it.

Lawo’s DSD sound is very good indeed as you might expect. With a church acoustic which is like a warm embrace rather than a cold bath. This album already has plenty of appeal.

I have spent quite a bit of time with Nils Anders Mortensen’s recording and have come to appreciate its excellent qualities more each time I’ve returned to it. This recording adds a personal, sensitively tuned and remarkably intelligent voice to the traditions around these remarkable pieces.


The Classical Music Blog 5 out of 5

Sensitive Brahms

It is not every day that Brahms’ work is interpreted by a Norwegian pianist. Nils Anders Mortensen has done it – and it gives you a very nice listening experience.

It is Johannes Brahms incredibly beautiful Piano Sonata No. 3 Op.5 which is nicely wrapped with his 2 Rhapsodies Op.79 and Ballade Op.10 No.1 at each end. And Mortensen conveys this music in an extremely delicate way.

Brahms wrote his third sonata in 1853 – only 20 years old. It is a mature work created by the young Brahms, where one understands how much talent the German composer also had as a pianist at the time. For the music is virtuoso and playful, and when the young Brahms also masters the design of the five movements, the starting point becomes exciting.

Nils Anders Mortensen really manages to give the music a good life on this recording. The music is romantic and oozes sparkling life, something Mortensen fully conveys because his playing gives the music time to breathe. This is how great art becomes.

The year after Brahms composed the piano sonata, he wrote the four ballads that make up op.10. The album ends with the first of these – the so-called “Edward ballad”, a really tendentious work.

The album’s introductory rhapsodies are famous – and Mortensen in no way shames Norwegian pianists with these interpretations. Here we experience playfulness and pianistic resilience galore.

Audiophile Audition 4 out of 5

Brahms At Midnight

Norwegian pianist Nils Anders Mortensen acquits himself admirably. His technique is sound and would have to be to propel him through Brahms’s knotty sonata – but more, he plays with great sympathy for Brahms and his dark muse. There’s much beautiful playing here, enhanced by a very natural Surround Sound recording from LAWO. Recommended for your darkest midnight listening pleasure.

HRAudio.Net 5 out of 5

Pianist Nils Anders Mortensen is well-known and much appreciated for his solo appearances with the principal Norwegian orchestras. His nicely planned recital begins with Brahms’ Two Rhapsodies Op. 79, mature pieces from 1879 just after his Violin Concerto, and the first piano pieces since he wrote his Third Piano Sonata in 1854.

This recital was captured in the modern Jar Church, a well-known Norwegian venue with a helpful ambience. However, my ears reported a close microphone array, so that little bloom was added to develop the piano tone, even in the 5.0 Multichannel setup.

This music had never been recorded by a Norwegian pianist before this album was made. Mortensen demonstrates a high regard for Brahms, especially in bringing out the Lisztian influence of the composer (Brahms had heard Liszt’s ground-breaking Sonata just before writing the F minor sonata).


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