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Nelly Akopian-Tamarina’s Brahms recital is so personal, distinctive and musicianly, that it makes one think again, erasing all pre-conceptions. This is Brahms as you never previously knew him. Time and again she brings a near-Mozartian clarity to music with a potential for opacity. Unfailingly true to her own lights she stresses confidentiality, and if her playing is what painters call ‘low in tone’ it is nonetheless vital and alive.

In the Handel Variations her favoured expressions are dolce and espressivo and her overall tempi, while slower than conventional wisdom allows, permits details to emerge too often obscured in more obvious virtuoso performances. Variation 4 is deft rather than bludgeoning and she displays true vivacità in Variation 7. Again, her lightly tripping way in the final and exultant fugue may be surprising, yet it leaves you more elated than exhausted. More generally, Akopian-Tamarina reminds you that pianists who can fully control pianissimo and a slow tempo are exceptional.

The early Four Ballades respond to an even greater extent to playing of such intimacy, their haunting and archaic poetry defined with pinpoint clarity and rare cantabile. No 2 emerges as if from nowhere, and you only have to hear the magically chiming heart of the hallucinatory No 3 to hear a pianist of rare poetic empathy. The singer’s leap at bar 41 in No 4 is made with a special sense of vocal inspiration and every harmony, whether outwardly simple or complex, is made to glow with colour. The pianist has supplied her own personal and affectionate essay and she is finely recorded: a crowning touch to an inspirational and enlightening issue.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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