A pianist friend of mine used to tell me that as a young girl she stayed at the same summer resort as Brahms , who played over to her the late piano pieces he had just composed . Bernard Shaw, certainly no Brahmsian, heard her perform them in early 1894, and thought them the ‘only part of the concert ‘ he enjoyed. Brahms can challenge pianists on the grandest scale with those gigantic concertos , but it is good to be reminded now and again how skilful he could also be as a miniaturist.
Perhaps the loveliest piece on the CD, and one that I can still play with satisfaction even if my technical powers diminish by the month, is the second of the Op 116 Intermezzos in E major . Brahms headed it with two words that occur rarely in his vocabulary: ‘Andantino teneramente’. I play it a little more thoughtfully than does Peter Katin , and I hope with the sort of tenderness that my friend could command even when over ninety.
The G minor Rhapsody of Op 79 is a total contrast . A passionate outpouring of great power , it demands the utmost intensity throughout. Here Katin is in his element , moulding the arching phrases with complete mastery. These recordings were made more than twenty years ago, but the sound has concert- hall freshness. The piece is a fine example of the new style of pianism that Brahms introduced to the repertoire .
Brahms was never happier than when writing variations . There are many sets for solo keyboard , piano duet , or indeed two pianos . Op 24 has for theme an aria by Handel from the first suite in B flat of the 1733 collection. Handel wrote five variations on the tune, which Brahms multiplied by five, adding for good value a concluding fugue that poses many a contrapuntal conundrum, makes teasing technical demands, and finds Katin on magnificent form.
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