BRAHMS Paganini Variations LISZT Mephisto Waltz
With the Liszt Sonata and now Brahms’s Paganini Variations, to say nothing of the Saint-Saëns-Liszt-Horowitz Danse macabre coupling, Alexander Gavrylyuk makes his credentials abundantly clear. Yet he is a virtuoso in the fullest sense and few pianists have relished Brahms’s expressive range as well as his ferocious demands in his Op 35 more inclusively. Less dictatorial than Michelangeli, if also less idiosyncratic and mercurial than Géza Anda (my front runner in a Gramophone Collection – 3/03), he remains among an elite able to reach out far beyond mere proficiency to the musical heart of what Clara Schumann called Brahms’s ‘Witch Variations’. The familiar opening theme could hardly be given in a more forthright manner, and already in Var 4 a sudden braking adds an individual touch to its chains of trills and leaping left hand figuration. He is warmly responsive to the cloudy poetry of Var 9; and if, as we turn to Book 2, he is less piquantly inclined to vary the colour, light and shade than Anda in Var 11, he is truly dolce espressivo in Var 12.
In Liszt (a speciality), Gavrylyuk may not erase indelible memories of a Festival Hall performance of the D flat Consolation by Clifford Curzon – the acme of poetic delicacy – yet his performance is admirably limpid and finely nuanced. The First Mephisto Waltz is again masterly, if lacking in the ultimate diabolic frisson (Cziffra), while in the Wagner/Liszt Liebestod Gavrylyuk’s hushed dolcissimo end is as remarkable as his storming advance to the central climax. The Danse macabre is given with seemingly limitless reserves of strength and glitter. Less ‘dumbfounding’ (my quote is from that august publication The Record Guide) than Horowitz himself, it would still have caused that ultimate Merlin of the keyboard to listen in wonder. Finally, the Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli where, once more – this time in a whirl of Neapolitan gaiety – Gavrylyuk is as vivid and characterful as he is dextrous. Well recorded, this album should be in every serious collector’s library.