At the risk of being flippant, male pianists seem to divide into two groups, judging by their album covers – those with fashionable stubble and those with cleanly shaved jowls. Barry Douglas and Jonathan Plowright both fall into the former category, and this might seem an irrelevance were it not for the fact that both are in the middle of their Brahms projects and both have new volumes out now.
Both tackle the Sonata No 2 Op. 2 on their latest releases, giving us an opportunity to compare their very different approaches. Plowright’s recording was reviewed last month and I have to say that I prefer his nuanced and “cooler” reading over the Irishman’s more heated interpretation. Douglas, though, does bring a sense of excitement to the Lisztian outer movements. The Chandos team produces a warmer and more immediate sound than the elegant precision of the Swedes at BIS, so that may influence your choice.
Douglas knows how to balance a program, placing the sonata last after the delightful 16 Waltzes Op. 39, alongside intermezzos – two from Op. 119, one from Op. 116 – and the solemn and majestic Theme with Variations taken from his string sextet and dedicated, of course, to Clara Schumann. So which stubbled pianist to add to your collection? Maybe you don’t need to choose between the 1986 Tchaikovsky winner Douglas and Fullbright Scholar Plowright. Maybe you should get the best of both worlds and add each to your shopping cart.