PETER LIEBERSON (1946-2011): Piano Variations, OLIVER KNUSSEN (b.1952): Variations, Op. 24, GEORGE BENJAMIN (b.1960): Meditation on Haydn's Name, LUCIANO BERIO (1925-2003): 5 Variazioni, JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897): Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24.
Catalogue Number: 03Q068
Description: Knussen's piece, characteristically compressed into a dramatically foreshortened timespan, is very much a traditional variation set. A short cell of six notes is itself varied to form a theme, and remains clearly recognisable throughout as it is subjected to a variety of ornamentation. Four of the variations form a miniature passacaglia over a ground bass derived from the theme. The Berio, an early work, makes much freer use of the main material, in a work of fantastical, improvisatory character (fully notated, however). Benjamin's little tribute to Haydn consists of textural diversions around a five-note motif derived from Haydn's name, which forms a little melodic motif and a not particularly exciting chord. The work has a delicate, impressionistic atmosphere. Lieberson's variations are the most conventionally pianistic of the modern works here, in an harmonically rich language with distinct tonal centers. Despite the modern harmonic langauge, this is a very accessible work, and the one that is most obviously related to romantic variation sets like the Brahms. The variations fall into four distinct groups which explore different characters by emphasizing different aspects of a three-phrase theme, from dancelike and jazz-tinged to serious and enigmatic, to muscular bravura. Benjamin Hochman (piano).