The Online Merker review Sarah Beth Briggs’ Variations album (launched Spring 2023) on which this programme is based.
‘Sarah Beth Briggs has achieved an astonishing pianistic feat. With a crystal clear, featherlight touch and atmospheric fluidity, she exposes the structure of the variations, the blueprints, as it were, of the musical architecture… at the same time, she knows how to draw a genuinely fitting arch for each of the sets…Rubati are placed sparingly, but all the more effectively; the organic breathing of the music always has the upper hand. While emotions can sometimes boil up feverishly (e.g. Mendelssohn Variations III, VIII, IX) each romantic theme moves with a nobly evoked musicality. Absolutely recommended!’
In celebration of Sarah’s recent release of Variations on AVIE Records …an exceptional CD (Rob Cowan) this programme presents three sets of Variations from that recording with other works that take on the Variations mantle.
At the heart of the programme is Hans Gál’s tightly structured four-movement Sonata from 1927, which includes a set of variations as its rather haunting third movement. Sarah was invited to perform this work by the Hans Gál Society at a Gál Celebration Concert at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, following major plaudits for her recordings of the Piano Concerto (Gramophone Critic’s Choice) and the Piano Trio (Gramophone Editor’s Choice.)
The first half places Gál between Mozart’s late Duport variations and Mendelssohn’s virtuosic Variations Sérieuses, regarded by many as his most significant piano work, while in the second half Beethoven’s Variations on God Save the King preface Schubert’s classic theme and five variations which comprise his much-loved B flat impromptu, D935 No. 3.
The programme concludes with two works by Chopin – his Berceuse, originally offered to its publishers with the title Variantes, later changed to Berceuse, perhaps to represent the rocking of the cradle depicted by the ostinato bass that runs throughout the piece; and finally, Chopin’s Fourth Ballade – effectively a set of variations on a rather tragic theme with contrasting interludes building up to a dramatic coda – a work which the late John Ogdon said ‘contained the experience of a lifetime’.
Mozart Variations on a theme by Duport, K573
(or Haydn F minor Variations Hob XVII/6)
Hans Gál Sonata, op 28 (1927)
Mendelssohn Variations Sérieuses, op 54
Beethoven Variations on God Save the King, WoO78
(or Haydn Variations on Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser)
Schubert Impromptu in B flat, D935 No. 3
Chopin Berceuse, op 57 and F minor Ballade op 52
What the press have said about works on this programme from Sarah’s latest Variations release:
Briggs shows that she finds the variation form itself to be varied, involving, and pianistically satisfying both to perform and to hear…a first rate new AVIE recording.
An exceptional CD … She’s a strong and sensitive player, which is just what is needed … a most rewarding release.
Sarah Beth Briggs’ rewarding programme of variations….
Briggs navigates especially skilfully the early-Romantic storms of Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses, giving them plenty of brilliance, lyricism and energy.
Her playing is as attentive and detailed as her programming, convincingly creating a different atmosphere for each composer.
BBC Music Magazine
…phrases are shaped with such insight and affection that each set (of Variations) possesses a sense of compelling organic growth
…played with such warmth, humanity and passion
…I love it…a fluently played programme casting a beguiling light on music both familiar and less so.
International Piano Magazine