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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

The Early Brahms

  • Piano Sonata #1, Op. 1
  • Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann in F Sharp minor, Op. 9
  • 4 Ballades, Op. 10
Oleg Marshev, piano
Danacord DACOCD643 72m DDD
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Amongst the many gifts that Brahms was endowed with, his virtuosity as a pianist was certainly one of them. Oddly enough, the majority of his solo piano compositions are all intimate and concise, with the exception of his two piano concertos of course.

The pieces on this CD are among his very first for the piano and Brahms' precocious talent is all too evident. The Sonata in C is in fact his second such work having preferred its predecessor (in F Sharp minor) to be published as his Op. 2. Perhaps, he wished to announce himself more emphatically as this Op. 1 is full of that fire and impetuosity inherent in all youthful composers.

Apart from the poetic Andante, this work leaves a strong impression, if only for its exuberance and sincere joy. The Schumann Variations were written in 1854 (two years after the Sonata) as an expression of gratitude towards Robert, who strived to publish Brahms' three piano sonatas. By this time, Robert was already in an asylum, and the composer wrote this piece primarily as a means of sustenance for Roberts' wife Clara for whom he had a lifelong and passionate affection.

This is a work of great poetic sadness and its tragic undertones are a clear indication of Brahms' sorrow at the plight of the Schumanns. The 4 Ballades, Op. 10 were composed right after the Variations, and each one has a characteristic all of its own; from contemplation and serenity to agitation and uneasiness.

Oleg Marshev is at present, Danacord's main artist and his recordings, particularly those of the Russian masters have come in for high praise. Although I found his interpretation of the sonata a shade tame, the variations and ballades breathe a truly Olympian spirit of resigned grief.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech