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Brahms: Handel Variations / Perahia

Audio Samples

>Brahms, Johannes : Variations and Fugue for Piano in B flat major on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24
>Brahms, Johannes : Rhapsodies (2) for piano, Op. 79
>Brahms, Johannes : Pieces (6) for piano, Op. 118
>Brahms, Johannes : Pieces (4) for piano, Op. 119

Album Summary

>Brahms, Johannes : Variations and Fugue for Piano in B flat major on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24
>Brahms, Johannes : Rhapsodies (2) for piano, Op. 79
>Brahms, Johannes : Pieces (6) for piano, Op. 118
>Brahms, Johannes : Pieces (4) for piano, Op. 119
Performer Composer

Notes & Reviews:

"Brahms' Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel has long been one of my favorite works by this composer and is, hands down, my favorite set of keyboard variations by anyone. What is more, I think it is one of the most pianistic works I know. There is an orchestration by Edmund Rubbra, which I have heard but have not been enraptured by - unlike the Schoenberg orchestration of Brahms Op. 25 Piano Quartet in G minor, and unlike the magnificent and moving Weingartner orchestration of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata, both of which I love. Unfortunately there is no modern recording of the latter - Weingartner recorded it in 1930 - and I earnestly hope some conductor and recording company will take this up. (It should sell.)

There are of course many recordings available of Brahms' Handel Variations. Not all of them have appealed to me. For many years, my favorite performances have been those of Leon Fleisher and Eugene Istomin. The latter's performance was once recorded on Columbia ML5287 but is currently unavailable. Fleisher's 1956 monaural recording is available on another Sony release. Although the sound on that recording is not state-of-the-art, the performance is still gripping. Even with the sound of that in my ears, I like Perahia's performance - and in this recording we have a satisfying combination of an excellent performance and an excellent recording. The very nature of the variation form requires a display of a wide variety of expressive playing and I have no fault to find with anything Perahia does here. I am not about to discuss each of the variations, but I will say that Perahia brings out the strands of the final fugue clearly and brilliantly - as one might expect after his celebrated recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations.

The other pieces here consist of three rhapsodies (including one in Op. 119), seven intermezzi, a ballade and a romance. I am much less familiar with these pieces, but I can say that the rhapsodies (Agitato, Molto passionato, and Allegro risoluto) are convincingly rhapsodic; the romance is gentle; and the ballade is energetic, as called for. The intermezzi, varied in mood, key and tempo, are very satisfyingly played, to my ears and I am happy to have this collection.

Highly recommended."-classical.net

"It may be 20 years since Murray Perahia's last Brahms release but the wait has been gloriously worthwhile. For here, once more, is a pianist who achieves the highest musical quality with the most economical means. Time and again Brahms's potential for strenuousness and opacity is clarified with a superfine musical intelligence and technique. The opening Aria from the Handel Variations is unusually thoughtful and considered, and in the sciolto of Var 14 he conveys all of Brahms's riotous brilliance while characteristically remaining in superb control. Hear his hushed withdrawal at the start of Var 22, as if the music's magical chime was heard from a great distance; and, per contra, I doubt whether the concluding and exultant fugue has often been given with a more formidably yet lightly worn articulacy in its entire history. This is a performance for those poor souls who, amazingly, take a dim view of Brahms's keyboard variations.

Translucent voicing and texture characterise Perahia's way with the Op 79 Rhapsodies and most of all the Opp 118 and 119 Intermezzos. Perahia achieves a burning clarity (even when the music is marked piano and sotto voce) at the start of Op 118's concluding Intermezzo, bringing a wealth of concentrated detail and an impeccable line and impetus to this heart-stopping epic in miniature (if the paradox be allowed), a mirror of the inner desolation that afflicted Brahms both early and late in his life. Try Op 119 No 1 for a poetic intensity and subtlety uniquely Perahia's and you may well wonder when you last heard a pianist with a more patrician disregard for all forms of bloated excess or exaggeration.

There are, of course, other approaches to these works - Katchen's stunning opulence and theatricality in the Handel Variations (Decca, 2/91), Lupu's crepuscular magic in the late Intermezzos (Decca, 8/87) or Argerich's early and inflammatory genius in the Rhapsodies (DG, 2/93, 6/95) - yet I doubt whether a pianist more finely attuned to every harmonic and rhythmic subtlety has existed since Lipatti. This disc, finely recorded, forms a vital part of Perahia's crowning return after several years of debilitating illness." -Gramophone

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Funkhaus Berlin, Saal 1, Nalepastrasse, Germany (06/19/2010-06/24/2010).



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Works Details

>Brahms, Johannes : Variations and Fugue for Piano in B flat major on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24
  • Performer: Murray Perahia (Piano)
  • Notes: Funkhaus Berlin, Saal 1, Nalepastrasse, Germany (06/19/2010-06/24/2010)
  • Running Time: 26 min. 7 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1861

>Brahms, Johannes : Rhapsodies (2) for piano, Op. 79
  • Performer: Murray Perahia (Piano)
  • Notes: Funkhaus Berlin, Saal 1, Nalepastrasse, Germany (06/19/2010-06/24/2010)
  • Running Time: 15 min. 20 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1879

>Brahms, Johannes : Pieces (6) for piano, Op. 118
  • Performer: Murray Perahia (Piano)
  • Notes: Funkhaus Berlin, Saal 1, Nalepastrasse, Germany (06/19/2010-06/24/2010)
  • Running Time: 21 min. 36 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1892

>Brahms, Johannes : Pieces (4) for piano, Op. 119
  • Performer: Murray Perahia (Piano)
  • Notes: Funkhaus Berlin, Saal 1, Nalepastrasse, Germany (06/19/2010-06/24/2010)
  • Running Time: 14 min. 14 sec.
  • Period Time: Romantic
  • Written: 1892