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Hyperion Records

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Rainy Weather on the Elbe (1902) by Max Liebermann (1847-1935)
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67777
Recording details: December 2009
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: October 2010
Total duration: 26 minutes 39 seconds

'Ohlsson's playing not only persuaded me to appreciate the two Op 21 works but actually to listen to both discs all the way through in a single sitting. He is that good … this is a great Brahms recording that elevates and illuminates the music with a lightness of touch and heart that eludes many (yet he can darken the tone when required) … [Paganini Variations] perhaps the most musical performance on disc in recent years' (Gramophone)

'An authoritative new collection of all six Brahms essays in theme-and-variations composition … he's a born Brahmsian, equipped at the highest level with the necessary speed and power, the muscular strength and facility of finger tempered by breadth of outlook and solidity of intellect … Ohlsson's new Brahms conspectus adds up to an altogether remarkable achievement' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Ohlsson's muscular performance does not ignore the yearning that lies beneath the surface' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Garrick Ohlsson has the technical resources to tackle the particular challenges that Brahms attached to Paganini's famous theme' (The Irish Times)

'Ohlsson’s many musical insights and his magnificent technical skills make this a release demanding to be heard' (

Variations and Fugue on a theme by G F Handel, Op 24
completed in Hamburg in September 1861; dedicated to Clara Schumann on her birthday, 13 September 1861; the theme is from Handel's

Fugue  [4'58]

Other recordings available for download
Seta Tanyel (piano)
Solomon (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The climax of Brahms’s activities as a composer of piano variations came with the Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel, Op 24. Completed in Hamburg in September 1861 and dedicated to Clara Schumann on her birthday, this is one of the summits of his entire keyboard output, showing him at the height of his powers. It was also—and hardly by coincidence—Brahms’s first major compositional statement following his 1860 ‘Manifesto’ against the composers of Liszt’s ‘New German School’, who were advocating the literary tone-poem and Wagnerian music-drama as the ‘Music of the Future’. Brahms’s Op 24 is a systematic summation of the mastery he had gained through intensive study during the previous decade. The choice of a Baroque theme, the strictness of the variations, the richness and scope of the piano technique, and the lavish display of contrapuntal learning in the concluding Fugue, all combine to present Brahms in the role of preserver and representative of tradition. Even Wagner saw its significance when Brahms played it to him, commenting grandly that it showed what could still be done with the old forms by someone who knew how to use them.

The theme is the Air from Handel’s B flat major harpsichord suite, published in 1733 (Brahms, the passionate bibliophile, owned a first edition). This dapper little tune has the balanced phraseology, the structural and harmonic simplicity, of an ideal variation subject. Brahms’s twenty-five variations confine themselves to the key of B flat, with occasional excursions into the tonic minor. But this apparent constraint, while imposing a powerful structural unity, provides Brahms with a framework on which to establish and explore a kaleidoscopic range of moods and characters. Several of the variations form pairs, the second intensifying and developing the characteristics of the first, while the last three create a climactic introduction to the concluding Fugue, on a subject derived from Handel’s theme. This continues the variation process in an altogether more ‘open’ form in which Brahms reconciles the linear demands of fugal form with the harmonic capabilities of the contemporary piano. The grand sweep of the structure, however, is never lost sight of, and the Fugue issues in a coda of granitic splendour.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010

Other albums featuring this work
'Beethoven & Brahms: Variations' (CDH55201)
Beethoven & Brahms: Variations
MP3 £3.75FLAC £3.75ALAC £3.75Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDH55201  Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Archive Service   Download currently discounted
'Solomon – The first HMV recordings' (APR5503)
Solomon – The first HMV recordings
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99 APR5503  Download only  

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