This is a reissue of a 1990 Olympia recording. Opuses 79, 116, and 117 are regarded as Brahms’s return to smaller forms from the Sonatas and Variations as he was nearing the end of his career. Concluding the recording is the masterly Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, composed 30 years earlier.
It is evident immediately that Peter Katin is an arresting pianist with a fine command of the instrument. These miniatures demand amazing sensitivity, and Katin delivers. While Op. 116 is for the most part interpreted with great attention to detail and character, Katin’s transitions between very fast passages to the slow passages lack continuity. He could also take more care with the B section of the same piece, a particularly passionate section that seems a little rushed. The Intermezzo in E minor, a favorite of mine, drags sometimes here. The Intermezzo in E, “Andante teneramente”, could use a little more tenderness.
Despite these quibbles, he is a dexterous performer, and his Op. 117 Intermezzos bring out the beautiful density of texture in these pieces, with great consideration for the buried lines in the accompaniment. There is no extensive bravura here, but rather a gentle intimacy. Katin’s playing draws attention to such introspective works without becoming too precious.
The Variations are the perfect way to close the recording, with their brilliance and sparkling wit. While this interpretation may not be as grand as others, Katin displays the richness of these variations, from the light playfulness of Variation 1 to the exuberant fanfare of Variation 25. The fugue builds up to a climactic finish, and there’s plenty of energy.
The sound quality of the Norwegian recording is decent, and many should enjoy this testament to a fine pianist’s storied career. The liner notes are written by Katin himself, and are informative and well researched.