Brahms on the piano – volume 2

2015_cover_icsm004-copyJ. Brahms, Sonata, Op. 1

Scherzo, Op. 4

Ballades, Op. 10




Ivo Varbanov, piano


The second release of Ivo Varbanov on ICSM Records (ICSM Records 004) presents early piano works by Johannes Brahms: his Piano Sonata no. 1 in C major, Op. 1, the Scherzo, Op. 4, and the four Ballades, Op. 10.

All three piano works were performed at crucial moments in Brahms’s life:  the  Piano Sonata was the focus of one of the most romantic ‘first encounters’ in musical history. The handsome 20-year-old-unknown from Hamburg presented himself at Robert Schumann’s house in Düsseldorf on 1 October 1853. Schumann invited him to play something, and he sat down to begin the C major Sonata. ‘Visit from Brahms, a genius’, wrote Schumann in his diary for that day. The Scherzo Op. 4 was one of the first works Brahms showed to Franz Liszt and to Schumann in 1853. Liszt found the piece so congenial that he played it to an assembled company at Weimar. Lastly, the Ballades emerged at a fateful juncture in the 21-year-old Brahms’s life, shortly after his revered friend and patron Schumann had attempted suicide and been confined in a sanatorium near Bonn. Brahms had thus suddenly been thrust into the role of protector and comforter of Schumann’s wife Clara and her children, and was simultaneously wrestling with the fact that he had fallen in love with her. The Ballades, his first group of short lyric pieces, are prophetic of the compressed masterpieces of his later years.

Varbanov’s visionary choice of pieces is matched by his powerful rendition. This recording will impress the listener for its supreme sound beauty and the interpreter’s unusual choices.


Varbanov’s powerful, muscular reading of [Brahms’s] op. 1 Sonata leaves no doubt of his authority. I was particularly impressed by the sweep of the first movement and the touching simplicity Varbanov brings to the folksong-based slow movement.

— Huntley Dent, Fanfare (USA)