- Andante with variations for piano in F minor, H. 17/6
- Variations on a Theme of Corelli, for piano, Op. 42
- Variazioni (5), for piano
- Work(s): Gavotte variée
- Variations on a Theme of Schumann, for piano in F sharp minor, Op. 9
The booklet for this release by hot young French pianist Vanessa Wagner is a masterpiece of Gallic rhetoric that almost completely avoids discussion of the music that's actually included in the program. When you have playing that's this interesting, though, an obtuse booklet may be an advantage: there's nothing that will dilute the experience to come. Wagner is not the first pianist to offer a recital made up entirely of variation sets, but she has produced an exceptionally absorbing example of the genre. First, she notes the consistent presence of variation sets across the eras of musical history, which is intriguing enough to begin with. Then she isolates the inherently diverse nature of the variation set: it is a means to virtuoso exhibit, it is a source of play, or of homage, and it is intellectual, "chemical," as one historical commenter put it, dissolving musical units into their constituent components. When everything gets put back together, it's quite a show. Wagner finds ways of playing against type. Haydn's "Variations in F minor, Hob. 17/6," are an underplayed masterpiece of the composer's later years, with the playfulness you might expect being gradually replaced by a spirit of radical experimentation toward the end. Wagner sets a delicate tone and carries it through the entire program, even beautifully fitting Rachmaninoff's "Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42," into the pattern and setting the aspects of display and of interior structure against each other in that large work. The twelve-tone "Five Variations for piano" of Luciano Berio, a product of the composer's youth, are treated lightly and playfully, the "Gavotte varié" of Rameau dreamily and mystically. Wagner returns to the theme of homage for the final work: Brahms' "Variations on a theme of Schumann, Op. 9," seems in her hands to take on quite a slice of the complex relationships between the two composers. In all, there's a lot to chew on here, and there's no shortage of surface beauty, either.