July 4, 2017
The Daily Telegraph: Pianist Orli Shaham takes us across time and space in search of Mr Brahms
Orli Shaham with her husband David Robertson, chief conductor of Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
Orli Shaham with her husband David Robertson, chief conductor of Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
The Daily Telegraph

Steve Moffatt, Wentworth Courier
July 4, 2017

THE notion that composers can “talk” to each other “across time and across space” first struck US pianist Orli Shaham when she turned to Brahms’s late piano works while preparing for a performance of his mammoth second concerto.

The thought crystallised into a recording on which she linked backed to J.S. Bach, whose influence on Brahms was huge, and forward to three contemporary composers who were commissioned to write pieces that “spoke” of what Brahms means to them.

The two-disc album, Brahms Inspired, formed the bones of Shaham’s recital in Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s International Pianists in Recital series.

The recital set the works of two of the contemporary composers — After Brahms by Israeli Avner Dorman and Hommage a Brahms by Australian Brett Dean — alongside the Op 118 six piano pieces and Op 119 four pieces.

Dean’s three works were interleaved with the Op 119 pieces. Interestingly Shaham told her audience that Dean, who is a violist and not a pianist, had approached the musical challenge in such a way that it had opened up a new aspect of Brahms for her, even to the extent that she now plays the four pieces differently even when they are on their own.


Dorman, whom she described as both smart and humorous, takes Brahms as a starting point for his three intermezzi and goes well beyond what the older composer could have imagined, but still manages to capture his spirit. In fact the third piece was originally a stand-alone work but Dorman came to realise he had inadvertently written a homage.

For the Bach opener Shaham chose the last of the six French suites — eight dance movements which show the composer having fun and relaxing, rather than unfolding his mighty fugues and exercises in counterpoint.

The suite led neatly into the Op 118 set which, like all of Brahms’s piano works, were written for his great unconsummated love, Clara Schumann. They run the gamut of emotions and Shaham brought them out with her beautifully nuanced pianism.

After interval the very new mixed with the old, and it all served to change any perception of Brahms as a rather old-fashioned Romantic composer. In these last piano works — his most intimate and revealing — you do hear the beginnings of a new musical language.

This recital was indeed a marrying of heart and mind, beautifully and intelligently thought out and immaculately performed.

As if to warm us back to reality Shaham played Robert Schumann’s Romance Op 28 No. 2 as an encore.

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