Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24; Ballades, Op. 10; Rhapsodies, Op. 79

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WORKS: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24; Ballades, Op. 10; Rhapsodies, Op. 79
PERFORMER: Alexei Lubimov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-98474-2 DDD
Lubimov was one of the last pupils of Heinrich Neuhaus (who taught Gilels and Richter) and one of the first pianists in the Soviet Union to play Cage, Boulez, Stockhausen, etc. He started his own festival of new music and also formed a Baroque ensemble. He has recorded all Mozart’s piano sonatas on a period instrument.


So much for credentials. Perhaps for this recording, Lubimov should have used one of the light-toned Viennese instruments Brahms preferred, rather than a modern Steinway. More seriously, he fails to build the music in long spans of time. That’s partly because he hardly ever plays a rhythm as it’s written: he has to tug it about, peck at it, stretch it this way and that – anything but leave it to play itself. Triplets become anapaests, so in the Handel Variations, Brahms’s beloved twos-against-threes hobble along nervously; the line and sense of purpose in the music are lost. Nor, for all his fretting, does Lubimov convey any idea of the Variations’ contrasted characters. Character is something of which he seems afraid; even an absolute gift of straightforward Sturm und Drang, as the G minor Rhapsody is, has virtually all its fiery grandeur drained away – what a waste of those leaping left-hand octaves! The versions of the Handel Variations to go for are Solomon’s historic 1942 recording (reissued on APR, unhappily with a lot of shellac sizzle), or, the strongest recommendation of all, an excellent modern studio recording by Emanuel Ax on Sony. Adrian Jack