Tuesday 19 October 2021

BRAHMS Waltzes for Piano Four Hands / Fiammetta Tarli & Ivo Varbanov / Review

BRAHMS Waltzes Op.39

Liebeslieder Waltzes Op.52a

New Liebeslieder Waltzes Op.65a


& IVO VARBANOV, Piano 4 Hands

ICSM 001


Was it not Brahms, whom after hearing Johann Strauss Jr’s Blue Danube Waltz, once inscribed on a fan, “Leider nicht von Johannes Brahms” (Sadly not from Brahms)? He should know, being a naturalised Viennese and composer of waltzes himself. Brahms’ waltzes were not of the elaborate ballroom sequences and concert hall variety of the Strauss family, but much closer to the homespun spirit of Schubert and Ländler, humble Austrian country dances in three-quarter time.


Brahms’ three sets of waltzes for piano four hands (49 tracks in all) are well-loved by amateur pianists and choral societies for their memorable melodies, good humour and gemütlichkeit. All are short pieces, mostly lasting between one and two minutes (often less) and technically undemanding. To do these justice, however, needs artists of highest musicianship, which is why this recording by the duo of Fiammetta Tarli and Ivo Varbanov is simply a joy to behold.


The sixteen waltzes of Op.39 are the most familiar, and also exist in versions for solo piano. There are more details to be heard on four hands rather than two, and the performers are also less physically taxed which makes for better all round listening. The duo plays with much delicacy and wit, enhancing the delight to be had. Waltz No.15 in A flat major, the most universally recognised one, receives the tender treatment it deserves.   


There are two sets of Liebeslieder Waltzes (Lovesong Waltzes), often heard in versions for soprano, alto, tenor and bass (or mixed choir) accompanied by piano four hands. The earlier set Op.52a (18 waltzes, 1869), composed for Robert and Clara Schumann’s youngest daughter Julie, is by far the more popular one. Shorn of verses from Georg Daumer’s Polydora, the music is as infectiously tuneful as the purely instrumental waltzes, continuing seamlessly into the “new” Op.65a set (15 waltzes, 1874-77). Where one set ends and another begins is not as important as the sense of continuity and flow achieved by the duo.


As physical recordings go, this appears to be the only album available that so conveniently unites all three books. Lavished with care and with playing of such immediacy, the charms are hard to resist.     

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