Brahms/Schumann: Paganini Variations

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms/Schumann
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Paganini Variations
PERFORMER: Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 444 338-2 DDD
A very successful programme here: Schumann and Brahms are a natural pairing, given their close musical and personal relationships. Thibaudet gets round the problem of Schumann’s ‘extra’ variations in the Études (numbers excluded from the best-known published version) by giving us the ‘1852 version revised in 1861 to include Études III and IX from 1837 version’ and adding the four variations published in 1873 as an appendix after the coda.

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Thibaudet’s performance cannot be faulted pianistically: there is virtuosity aplenty, a sensitivity to inner voices which are varied upon repeat and a fine sense of flair. Overall, however, the interpretation feels affected and shallow. I miss any sense of deeply felt emotional involvement with the music – moments of tenderness are present but short-lived; and often mercurial imagination is replaced by a rather self-conscious jauntiness. My main quarrel is with Thibaudet’s rubato, which is often relentlessly similar in repetitive phrases and breaks up the natural flow of the music – for example, the coda of the Études symphoniques is marred by unnecessary and bothersome pauses between ‘question’ and ‘answer’ phrases. Jessica Duchen