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IV-XXI (In Memoriam)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on an Original Theme Op. 21 (1857) [16:06]
Three Intermezzi Op. 117 (1892) [16:09]
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Transcriptions of Songs by Robert Schumann (1876)
Far from Home [1:57]
With Myrtles and Roses [3:11]
Moonlight [3:13]
Devotion [1:51]
Thy Lovely Face [2:15]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Theme with Variations “Ghost Variations” WoO 24 (1854)
Variation V, “Ein Letzter Gedanke” [2:59]
Johannes BRAHMS
Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op. 23 (1863)* [15:39]
Yi Lin Jiang (piano)
Jacopo Giovannini (piano*)
rec. 21 September 2020 and 31 March 2021, Kronenzentrum Bietigheim.
ANCLEF 20210421 [63:20]

It seems barely 5 minutes since I had the pleasure of reviewing Yi Lin Jiang and Jacopo Giovanni’s Philia album, and having indicated my enthusiasm and received a nice e-mail from Yi Lin it wasn’t long before the anticipated IV-XXI [In Memoriam] dropped onto my nice new ‘laughing cats’ doormat. The title for this recording is closely tied in with memories of Yi Lin’s mother, and the booklet notes on the music are interspersed with poignant recollections of times past.

The programme revolves around the close relationships between Johannes Brahms, and his friends Robert and Clara Schumann. The Variations on an Original Theme Op. 21 No. 1 was apparently completed not long after Robert Schumann’s death, though its origins may predate that particular tragedy. It does however represent a new search for compositional discipline, using arcane techniques such as canonic writing to explore the potential of variation form in an ever more searching way. The general mood is quiet and introspective, though there is no shortage of textural contrast and emotional depth, and this sophisticated and extended ‘study’, a turning point for Brahms’ later variations, is devastatingly fine through Yi Lin’s impressively refined touch.

The Three Intermezzi Op. 117 come from Brahms’ later years, having been composed at his preferred summer resort of Bad Ischl. “Secretly dedicated to Clara Schumann, one can feel the brooding thoughts and suppressed longing in these character pieces (probably influenced by Robert Schumann), expressing his solitude with acceptance and dignity.” Yi Lin expresses admirably in words what he also communicates in music, avoiding overt sentimentality while adding his own poetic restraint and clear depth of feeling for these pieces.

Clara Schumann’s transcriptions of her husband’s songs were started 20 years after he died, creating piano pieces for a variety of publishers in order to provide some badly needed income. With most of these songs written for her, the personal associations such a project must have resurrected can only be speculated upon, but with support from Brahms she was able to both retain the essence of each song while also turning each one into an effective piano piece in its own right. The musical reply to this in the programme is Robert Schumann’s last of the Ghost Variations, “Ein Letzter Gedanke”, written after his suicide attempt in 1854 and dedicated to Clara.
This fine programme concludes with Yi Lin Jiang being joined by Jacopo Giovanni for the Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann Op. 23, dedicated by Schumann to Clara’s daughter Julie with the intention that the two could play the work together in memoriam of their lost father and husband. This is the same recording from the previous Philia EP, and this “tremendous, vibrant firework of symphonic timbres” is a perfect conclusion, proving that a memorial can and should also be a celebration of life.

These recordings can stand comparison with any version of these works in the catalogue. I have a good deal of affection for Jonathan Plowright’s recordings on the BIS label, and his version of the Variations on an Original Theme Op. 21 (review) is even more reflective when compared to Yi Lin’s by no means superficial account, adding around four minutes to the overall timing of the work. Whether you prefer this more immersive experience will depend on your taste and/or mood, but it certainly goes to show how widely two different artists can interpret such a piece while remaining entirely authentic. For the Three Intermezzi Op. 117 I will always think of Radu Lupu (review) who, while taking nothing away from Yi Lin Jiang, manages to add that little sprinkle of emotional grit in the oyster, bringing out not only the beauteous pearl in each piece, but also just that bit more of its underlying pain. With the sublime recording quality and excellent, impressive and touching performances in IV-XXI I am sure we can look forward to hearing much more from Yi Lin Jiang.

Dominy Clements

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