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Variations (Sarah Beth Briggs)

Sarah Beth Briggs (piano) (Avie)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Beethoven: Variations on ‘God save the King’; Variations on an Original Theme in F, Op. 34; plus works by Brahms, Mendelssohn and Mozart
Sarah Beth Briggs (piano)
Avie AV2569   74:43 mins

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Sarah Beth Briggs’s rewarding programme of variations traces a path from Mozart to Brahms, finding plenty of contrast and insight along the way. Each composer seems to pay tribute to the past, while stretching this ever-malleable genre towards the future.

The 9 Variations on a Minuet by Duport is relatively late Mozart, but its delicacy feels almost nostalgic. Beethoven, while not quite smashing the Dresden china, is clearly an iconoclast beside it, and we hear two rarely-aired sets in which he forged a path that ultimately led to his transformative late sonatas and the Diabelli Variations. The ‘God Save the King’ variations are also quite a hoot. Brahms’s Variations on a Theme of Schumann of 1854 finds the 21-year-old composer paying fervent tribute to his mentor shortly after the latter’s mental collapse.

Briggs navigates especially skilfully the early-Romantic storms of Mendelssohn’s Variations serieuses, giving them plenty of brilliance, lyricism and energy. Her playing is as attentive and detailed as her programming, convincingly creating a different atmosphere for each composer. There’s sometimes room for her to enlarge her interpretations and project those characters still more strongly, especially in the Brahms. Yet the recording’s intimacy is pleasing, like hearing the pianist in her living room rather than in some big barn of a concert hall – which suits the music to a tee.

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Jessica Duchen