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CLASSICAL  May 2005

CLASSICAL May 2005

Subject:

Review of Seta Tanyel Playing Beethoven and Brahms

From:

Donald Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 13 May 2005 16:08:14 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (92 lines)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Eroica Variations, Op. 35 (1802)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 (1861)

Seta Tanyel, piano
Recorded Abbey Road Studios, London (date not provided)
Hyperion/Helios CDH55201 [54:13]
(originally released on Collins Classics)

Comparisons:
Handel Variations - Fleischer/Sony, Katchen/Decca, Cohen/Vox
Eroica Variations - Richter/Music & Arts, Roberts/Nimbus

This Helios disc is a reissue of a Collins Classics recording from
the early 1990's and offers excellent performances of two of the most
well-known variations compositions for solo piano. Seta Tanyel is not
among the most intense of pianists, but she delivers elegant and lovely
readings combined with an exceptional display of playful personality
when needed.

Brahms composed the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel in 1861
for Clara Schumann's 42nd birthday, and she played the work in public
for the first time in Hamburg later that year.  The work has its genesis
from a theme in Handel's Keyboard Suite in B flat where the theme is
subjected to five variations.  Brahms enlarged the scope to 25 variations
and added an extended fugue.

Debate could go on for days concerning the merit of the Handel Variations
in comparison to Bach's Goldberg Variations and Beethoven's Diabelli
Variations.  I love each of these works dearly, and would hate to make
comparisons among them.  Suffice it to say that each work displays a
wide and inspirational variety of music and is a staple of the keyboard
genre.

Leon Fleischer's account of the Handel Variations has been one of my
favorites for many years, and I have to say that Tanyel is not far behind
his superlative performance.  The gorgeous phrasing she offers in the
Theme is a good example of the priority she places on the sheer beauty
in the work.  Her rhythmic lift is always excellent and particularly
appealing in Variations 3 and 10.  When exuberance is called for, as
in Variations 4, 7, and 8, Tanyel is fast out of the gate and never
looks back.  She also provides a melting lyricism that pierces the
heart, Variations 11 and 18 being prime examples.  To add to the allure
of Tanyel's performance, she creates compelling mystery in Variations 5
and 21.  This is the area where I find Tanyel better than Fleischer.  He
doesn't place a high priority on mystery, and his dry acoustic is of no
assistance.

I do have a few quibbles about Tanyel's Handel Variations.  Her trills
are generally not perfectly formed, a little problem most noticeable
in Variation 1.  The result is that the trills do not seem an integral
part of the musical argument.  My other reservations concern some lack
of tension in Variation 9 that dampens the sense of intense struggle,
and a uniform lack of menace to Variations 23 and 24; the rolled chords
in Variation 24 are particularly benign (although loud).  These are
reservations that hold the performance back from being outstanding, for
it is an excellently played interpretation that I have enjoyed very much
over the past few weeks.

Beethoven's Eroica Variations is based on a binary theme from the
finale of his ballet Prometheus written in 1801.  The composer also used
this same theme for one of his contradanses and in the finale of his
Symphony No. 3.  Beethoven considered the Eroica Variations to be highly
unconventional in form, and its beginning is ample proof.  Instead of
starting with the presentation of the Prometheus theme, Beethoven creates
an introduction where the theme's bass is presented in octaves, then two
parts, three parts, and four parts.  The Prometheus theme then takes
over and is followed by 15 variations and a fugue.

When I listen to the Eroica Variations I am always impressed with its
consistently brash and playful nature.  A performance that well conveys
these two qualities along with the intense melancholy of Variation 24
routinely gets my approval.  Tanyel well conveys these qualities, with
the work's playful nature given center stage.  I do wish she had placed
greater emphasis on an aggressive presentation in the manner of Bernard
Roberts, but the interpretation remains vital and rewarding.  By the
way, do try to hear the Sviatoslav Richter version on Music & Arts; the
sound is not very appealing, but the performance has the most compelling
and concentrated arpeggios I have ever encountered.

With excellent sonics having an ideal level of reverberation, I warmly
recommend this Seta Tanyel disc at budget price.  The performances are
not among the best on record, but Tanyel's playful Beethoven and loving
Brahms make for a very attractive coupling.  Those further interested
in Tanyel's artistry might like to know that she has several other
recordings in the catalogs including two volumes of the Hyperion Romantic
Piano series and a few discs on Helios devoted to the piano works of
Moritz Moszkowski and Franz Xaver Scharwenka.

Don Satz
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