December 2005

The Eraly Brahms
Piano Sonata No. 1, Op.1. Variations on a Theme by Schumann, Op. 9. Four Ballades, Op. 10
Oleg Marshev (pf)
Danacord DACOCD 643

Ringing authority in early Brahms from this gifted pianist

Having wandered engagingly down the country lanes of Sauer, Pabst and Richard Strauss, the prolific Oleg Marshev, Danacord’s gifted star pianist, is firmly on the motorway for his latest venture. The results are impressive.

Though at least six works preceded the First Sonata in C major, Brahms’s designated op.1 announced the arrival of its 19-year-old composer with unabashed self-confidence. After the expansive first movement, with its barely disguised genuflection to Beethoven and the Hammerklavier, there follows a set of variations on a German folksong, a fiery Scherzo and an exuberant finale.

Marshev handles the heavy chordal writing with exemplary clarity and a ringing authority reminiscent of Katchen (who, however, does not include the first movement repeat). The Four Ballades are thoughtful and sensitive, coloured, as are all these performances, by the slightly astringent tone this artist favours.

For me, Marshev’s finest account is of the Schumann Variations, based on a theme from Bunte Bltter, a keenly observed reading that underlines its tragic undertone (his friend Schumann was already in a mental institution). Variation 10 (Poco adagio) and the final dying pages of Variations 15 and 16 are touchingly done. I’d direct you to the track numbers if Danacord had allowed me to.

Jeremy Nicholas