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Brahms: Handel Variations, Ballades - Akopian-Tamarina

Brahms: Handel Variations, Ballades - Akopian-Tamarina

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186 677

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Brahms: Handel Variations, Ballades

Nelly Akopian-Tamarina (piano)


The incomparable, soul-searching playing of the veteran Russian pianist Nelly Akopian-Tamarina is captured in a rare studio recording for PENTATONE with a luminous performance of Brahms’ towering Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24 and the introspective Four Ballades, Op. 10.

In a distinguished tradition of playing stretching back to the great Russian school of Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Medtner through her teacher, the legendary Alexander Goldenweiser, Nelly Akopian-Tamarina is an exemplar of an exquisitely crafted and poetical style of playing which is subtle, probing, deeply lyrical and utterly spellbinding.

Winner of the 1963 Robert Schumann International Competition for Pianists and Singers and recipient of the coveted Robert Schumann Prize in 1974, her career was nevertheless blocked by official censorship in the Soviet Union during the 1970s such that she made her London debut only in 1983 with a programme of Schumann and Brahms. Her public appearances are all too infrequent but sought after and cherished by aficionados; for an all-Brahms recital in 2008 she was praised for her “luminous fortissimi. Chords ice-edged in silver. The finest pianissimi you're ever likely to hear on the concert stage. Singing lines, deliberated textures, broad-chested melodies ‘thrown’ across the auditorium, intricate pedalling. Unspoken stories. She takes listeners back to a distant, lost past." (International Piano)

For this new release, Akopian-Tamarina approaches the programme with her customary sensitivity and poetic insights to give performances of rare subtlety and perfection. “Classically framed romantic miniature fantasies, intricate, entwining studies in embroidery, decoration and voicing”, she writes of the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, “the twenty-five variations navigate the theme to a coronation of fugal triumph, immeasurable and immortal”. Elsewhere she compares the Four Ballades to the passing of the seasons “The First, Winter … icy and unforgiving … The Second, Spring, is an awakening … the first buds blushing into life. The Third, Summer, as brief as youth … The Fourth, Autumn, is a symphonic poem, drawing to a close the dissonance of life’s pain, touching the untouchable.” This recording, her first for PENTATONE, was made in the warm acoustic of the Snape Maltings in England.

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Comment by William Hecht - October 31, 2018 (1 of 1)

Some discs come to us from high profile performers, wrapped in state of the art technology, and expectations are raised accordingly. Others, like this one, slip virtually under the radar. I admit to buying it only because one of my regular suppliers included it in a summer sale at a ridiculously low price, and still it took me several months to put it in the player despite the fact that I love Brahms' piano music.

Here we have a 20 year old recording of a performance by a semi cult figure pianist remastered from a ( presumably) standard PCM original in regular old stereo (not Pentatone's usual approach). And yet in the actual hearing we have one of the most beautiful and moving recitals I've ever heard. The Brahms recordings from Plowright on BIS and Rittner on MDG are terrific as are a number of others apart from sets, but this is unique. By the time the final notes of the 4th ballade we're dying away I was imagining myself in a small room with Clara and Robert Schumann listening to a young Brahms pouring out his old soul. It doesn't get any better than this.