Notes and Editorial Reviews
Variations on an Original Theme,
Variations on a Hungarian Song,
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel,
Books I and II
Andreas Boyde (pn)
OEHMS 586 (74:54)
Here, neatly packaged on one CD, are all but two of Brahms’s variations works for
solo piano. Absent are the arrangement of the variations movement from his op. 18 String Sextet and the Variations in F? Minor on a Theme by Schumann, op. 9. The current release is labeled Volume 3 in Brahms’s complete solo piano works, but only Volume 1, containing the first two piano sonatas, is listed on ArkivMusic.
I also see by the
Archive that Andreas Boyde is no stranger to these pages, though his last appearance was some 10 years ago, and reviews of his then recent handful of CDs were mixed. Since then, the Athene label issued a recording in 2006 of Boyde in a program of piano pieces by Schumann. His official Web site (www.andreasboyde.com) lists an even more recent German label SACD of works by Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, though it claims to have already sold out, and to have no second pressing planned. It would appear, from his booklet photo, at least, that Boyde is an artist probably in his early to mid 40s, and from his biographical information, one who is not that widely known outside of his native Germany or England, where he now resides.
Comparing Boyde’s Handel Variations to a recording by Cynthia Raim I reviewed in
33:2 was instructive. Boyde has the technique and physical power required by Brahms’s keyboard writing, but I found his weakness to be precisely Raim’s strength; that, as I put it, is the way “she relates tempos and dynamics between variations, so that one does not have the feeling that each is an independent entity that simply starts anew when the previous one has ended.” There is an organic sense of the whole and an inevitable outcome derived from the initiating event that informs Raim’s reading. This is what I find somewhat lacking in Boyde’s performance. It’s like examining a strand of perfectly polished pearls, but at the end of it not being able to identify the oyster that produced them.
possibly demand greater concentration of technique, but somewhat less perhaps in the way of structural engineering, being essentially episodic and calculated for virtuosic effect. Here Boyde shines, his technical control and tonal palette being mightily impressive. His concluding two variations in Book I are jaw-dropping. I’ve rarely heard Brahms sound so much like Alkan. Few pianists I’ve heard—Earl Wild, Julius Katchen, and, more recently, Jean-Yves Thibaudet—make their way through the technical hurdles with as much technical assurance and composure while managing to bring out the demonic character of these variations as well as Boyde does.
The Variations on an Original Theme, op. 21/1, and the Variations on a Hungarian Song, op. 21/2, are among the earliest of Brahms’s attempts at variation form, if indeed variations can be called an actual form rather than a formal procedure. The two works demonstrate the composer’s keen interest in the idea from an early age. Op. 21/2 actually predates op. 21/1 by a year; it was written in 1856, op. 21/1 in 1857, but publication of both did not come until 1862.
, I’d stick with the aforementioned Raim, an imposing achievement. But for the
alone, I would strongly recommend this release. Boyde’s piano is not identified, but the 2007 recording, made in the Klaus von Bismarck Hall of Cologne’s Funkhaus, captures the instrument beautifully.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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