Murray Perahia's revelatory Brahms

Far from drowning Brahms' pieces, Murray Perahia's considerable talents reveal the composer's own ideas writes Jane Jones

Composer: Brahms
Repertoire: Handel Variations; Two Rhapsodies; Six Piano Pieces; Four Piano Pieces
Artists: Murray Perahia (pf)
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Instrumental
Label: Sony Classical 88697 72725-2

The Music: More than thirty years separate these works by Brahms, but each work represents a high point of achievement in the composer’s career, although he still sought approval from those, like Clara Schumann, whose views he respected. But even the self-critical Brahms believed his Handel Variations were ‘a great improvement’. 

The Performance: Given his own acknowledged appreciation of form and structure, I feared Perahia’s approach to Brahms’ Handel Variations would match the composer’s intellectual interest with an academic dryness. Far from it, Perahia becomes our virtuosic interpreter, subtly revealing Brahms’ own ideas for the art of variation technique as the piece unfurls and builds until Handel’s aria is transformed. The middle period Rhapsodies are beautifully rounded, with the composer’s bold heroics matched with lyrical, poetic playing. The final ten pieces are intimate and reflective, played with an intense mastery that is wonderful. 

The Verdict: Perahia is recognised as the foremost interpreter of Bach – which seems to have left little room for Brahms. But almost twenty years since his last Brahms recital, this is what we’ve been missing. 

Want More? If you’ve developed a taste for Variations, try Nicholas Angelich’s performance of the Paganini Variations on Virgin (332 6282).