Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Fantasias Op.116 set 1 [8:11] set 2 (1891) [13:16]
Intermezzi Op.117 (1891-92) [15:37]
Rhapsodies Op.79 (1879) [14:22]
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel Op.24 (1861) [26:47]
Peter Katin (piano)
rec. May 1990, Salen Church Hall, Ski, Norway
DIVERSIONS DDV 24157 [78:48]

This disc, recorded in Norway in 1990, was previously issued on Olympia OCD263 and its reappearance on Diversions does credit to the company. The repertoire is all-Brahms, and Katinís responsive, responsible musicianship ensures that nothing is exaggerated or underplayed. Instead he performs with so direct, so honest a perception, that the music unfolds quite naturally, and very beautifully.

His playing of the Rhapsodies enshrines an approach that demonstrates technical assurance and musical understanding. The G minor is vivid, powerfully engaging, controlled but architecturally acute. Not once does the rhetoric sub-divide, as it were, as it can in less perceptive hands when a pianist wishes to parade a stop-start approach. Equally the longer B minor is richly performed with its long central panel perfectly conjoined to the surrounding writing. For Katin, one senses, breaking up the music without allowing it to flow is a cardinal error.

The series of Intermezzi and Capriccios attest to a special awareness of the particularities of characterisation. Each mood is reinforced by exceptional dexterity and a sure sense of colour. The A minor Intermezzo, for instance, is a case in point. The line is impelled ever onwards, but without any rushing, so that phrasal continuity is always maintained. The mood of introspection is both perfectly judged and also conveyed. So, too, the calm poignancy and gentle reflection of the first E major Intermezzo in the second set of Op.116. As befits a more public and showy work, its key companion is played with grand gesture but also penetrating insight into its emotional calibration.

Katinís unostentatious musicality, in which everything is directed Ė as it should be, after all Ė inwards, can also be judged in the first of the Op.117 Intermezzi where tonal congruity is paramount and where the music seems simply to unfold. Then there is the thrilling Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, which Katin plays with the utmost conviction, concentration, buoyancy and command. Sometimes oneís mind can drift as the variations develop, but Katin keeps one spellbound through his utterly magnificent reading which culminates in the concluding fugue, which is delivered with overwhelming eloquence and clarity.

Incidentally, whilst Iíve not heard it, Katinís live performance of the Brahms-Handel, from a 1983 recital on Ontario, is available on Athene 23009/ATHCD9, coupled with Lisztís Sonata and the Petrarch Sonnet.

The booklet notes are by Katin himself, and the sound quality in Salen Church Hall, Ski is excellent.

I can only repeat that the performances throughout this disc are magnificent.

Jonathan Woolf

I can only repeat that the performances throughout this disc are magnificent.