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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op 23 (1861) [15:45]
Sechs Klavierstücke, Op 118 - II. Intermezzo (1893) [6:03]
Yi Lin Jiang (intermezzo), Jacopo Giovannini (piano four hands)
rec. 21 September 2020, Kronenzentrum Bietigheim, Germany
ANCLEF 20201031 [21:47]

This time last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing Yi Lin Jiang’s first CD on Solaris Records, recorded in 2014 and entitled Masques. It undoubtedly had an adventurous programme, successfully mixing the familiar and the relatively unknown. It was nominated for, and received, awards and I concluded by hoping for further discs and possibly more of his fine Schubert, as he’d played the difficult but rewarding Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946. Here, on his new label ANCLEF, established during the worldwide COVID19 pandemic, is an EP, suitably priced of two works by Brahms, who was certainly influenced by Schubert: one for four hands with Jacopo Giovannini, a name new to me, and, as a “bonus”, one of the Hamburg composer’s late masterpieces. The title Philia comes from “brotherly love”; Yi Lin Jiang refers to Giovannini as his brother. As Dominy Clements mentions in his review, the disc comes with an excellent and attractive booklet, adding to the merits of this release.

Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op 23 takes its theme from the slow movement of Schumann’s violin concerto which remained unperformed until the 1930’s when it was recorded by Georg Kulenkampff which I have on a Dutton CD. It was composed in very dark times for Schumann as he sank into his final illness; his wife Clara withheld some of his works and, I believe, even destroyed some. Schumann’s last solo work, The Ghost Variations, was influenced by Schumann’s mental state when he was suffering from hallucinations and Clara didn’t want it published in that form. The young Brahms, who had been mentored by the older composer and was passionate about Clara, who did not reciprocate, wrote these variations as a tribute; as such, they are apt and successful albeit with slender material. I love the work and these two players perform as one; indeed, it’s nigh impossible to detect the individual players. They seem very much of one accord and convey what I believe Brahms - a composer of whom I’m extremely fond - was trying to achieve. In his review, Dominy refers to other recordings which I don’t know of, but he seems very positive about this one, too. The piano is beautifully captured and this makes for a sublime twenty minutes or so.

 Yi Lin Jiang gives us a short “extra” in Brahms’ late Intermezzo, Op 118 No 2, written secretly for Clara, and he presents this autumnal and wistful music beautifully. I don’t claim to know Brahms’ piano works as well as his orchestral and chamber works but I am very fond of these works and enjoy artists such as Sir Clifford Curzon in them. I unhesitatingly place Li Lin Jiang in the highest class.

Sometimes, a recital can seem overlong and the listener tries hard to avoid “wool gathering”; here, my only regret is that this disc isn’t longer. My positive impression of Yi Lin Jiang’s first disc is strengthened here and I join Dominy in looking forward to his IV-XXI album, which is promised to appear soon.

David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Dominy Clements

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