Tuesday 17 October 2023

Sarah Beth Briggs plays some first-rate (yes!) Mendelssohn: Variations Serieuses Opus 54

A couple of weeks ago I went to a superb piano recital by Sarah Beth Briggs; a local lass who English readers might remembers as the youngest (then) finalist of the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1984; and who I first heard about (from music student friends) as a prodigy-pupil of Denis Matthews

It was a superb concert; and, for me, the highlight was Mendelssohn's "serious variations" Opus 54. I had never heard these before, yet they are the only work of Mendelssohn's I have encountered that I would regard as truly First Rate; excepting his overture to Midsummer Night's Dream - written at 17, and the only great music to have been composed by a child - 17 years old. 

SBB's performance of the Mendelssohn was one of those rare live-music occasions when I was absolutely riveted and entranced - I felt present at one of the musical events of my life. 

At the interval I bought Sarah Beth Brigg's recent CD "Variations" which included this, and several other pieces featured in the recital. I have been re-listening to the Serious Variations repeatedly ever since, and remain extremely impressed and moved by them. 

The rest of the disc is very good too, including Beethoven's variations on God Save the King which I had always assumed were just a kind of over-extended Teutonic joke! The concert revealed them to be of tremendously exciting virtuosity, consistently interesting, and thoroughly enjoyable!  

I did not believe Mendelssohn to be capable of such depth of musicality as he achieves in Opus 54; yet this work is as good as my very favourite Beethoven sonatas and variations; pieces I know very well from a span of more than four decades. 

Anyway: you can hear a snippet of SBB's performance from 3:30 here - or find other performances of the Mendelssohn Variations Serieuses on YouTube - I haven't yet investigated these, but Murray Perahia's performance would be a good bet.  


Alex said...

These have always been a favourite of mine. I used to play the variations 11-14 everyday when I was in college. Especially the slow variation 14 is one of my all time favourites. (And I was kind of too lazy to learn the later variations, and I was not a music major...)

As to recordings, the one by Sviatoslav Richter is really nice, too:

Somehow I also didn't care much about anything else by Mendelssohn, except the violin concerto and the string quartets.

As for variations for piano, I wonder if you have heard the op. 3 variations by Szymanowski before:


Mark In Mayenne said...

Not come across this lady before, I am enjoying "Variations" on my stéréo 'ow.