BRAHMS Handel Variations. Ballades Op 10
What constitutes interpretation? Surely every artist worthy of the name seeks to internalise the message of the music she or he chooses to perform in hopes of sharing a unique perspective with the audience. In the best of cases, that perspective is highly individual, shaped by myriad factors, including age, physique, training, culture, intelligence, imagination, curiosity and life experience, among countless others. Certainly the best music invites a variety of approaches. Indeed, one source of our continuing fascination with the Western canon is the constant revivification, the new insights and artistically satisfying experiences such varied, individual responses can produce.
Listening to Nelly Akopian-Tamarina’s new release of Brahms is a reminder that the search for a uniquely personal interpretation can, on occasion, stray so far from the beaten path that, ultimately, it loses its way entirely. Akopian-Tamarina is a native of Moscow who studied with Goldenweiser and Bashkirov. She gives us a Brahms who, at best, had no personal experience of singing and dancing or, at worst, had been institutionalised and heavily medicated. Bluntly put, everything is excruciatingly slow.
Granted, at the beginning of the Variations, the little Handel aria casts a sort of quirky, somnolent spell. What might come of this, you wonder? To her credit, Akopian-Tamarina mostly maintains the line in her geologically calibrated tempos. But as the variations unfold, each more distended and moribund than the last, one eventually loses hope. When the fugue finally arrives, if you haven’t wandered from the room, things have become so bloated and inert that the entire edifice collapses of its own weight.
With such inauspicious conditions prevailing, the Op 10 Ballades don’t even near the runway.