As complete sets of Brahms piano music go, it's hard to get more complete than this set by Martin Jones on Nimbus. Jones includes not only the canonical two Rhapsodies, three Sonatas, four Ballades, six sets of variations, ten Hungarian Dances, sixteen Waltzes and twenty-eight short piano pieces, but also the almost forgotten sarabandes, gigues, gavottes, studies, canons and transcriptions. Listeners looking for the most complete Brahms available need look no further. Listeners who do look no further, however, will have to settle for good but by no means great performances. Jones has a big tone coupled to an impressive technique and many of his performances are quite fine. But too often here he seems to be merely going through the motions, turning in accomplished but unexciting sometimes even dutiful performances. When extroverted virtuosity is called for in the Paganini Variations, Jones is almost but not altogether on top of the notes.
The music of Brahms held an important place in Sir John Barbirolli's repertoire and these recordings of the symphonies, made with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1966 and 1967, stand as one of the peaks of his discography. Barbirolli's relationship with this music is rooted in his time as an orchestral cellist, and these performances are notable for their rich, ripe sonorities and expansive warmth. This Japanese SACD reissue features the 2011's EMI Remaster.
After Bach, I think the compositional style of Johannes Brahms must be the most individually recognisable - at least in respect of his mature works; less so in the case of earlier compositions like the string sextets. However, these Piano Quartets are chock-full of typically Brahmsian melody and harmonic invention so that almost from the first bar, we readily are able to establish the composer's identity. Another reviewer has mentioned the density of Brahms's writing. Nowhere is this more evident than in these works which have absolutely no fat or padding on them; every note has a particular purpose within the structure of the whole. Nevertheless, in most of these quartets, Brahms does hint at the exposition of a subject which might become one of his grand melodic set-pieces but after only a passing nod at development, the idea fizzles out. But before we can sense any disappointment, we are caught up in his next scheme. This is so very characteristic of this great composer. The Beaux Arts Trio, ably augmented by Walter Trampler's viola, play to their customarily high standard with the recordings (from 1973) also being good.