Finnish pianist Terhi Dostal proves she is a skilled interpreter of Brahms on this album of the legendary composer's solo piano works. One of her strongest interpretations is Variations on a Theme by Schumann. She begins the chorale-like entry solemnly, rolling the chords beautifully. Dostal is an introspective player with a lot of inner focus, yet in the dramatic variations she is full of fire, playing with precise, percussive attacks. Dostal is capable of switching musical moods very quickly, something that is necessary to a piece made up of variations. Majestic, stately chords open the Variations on an Original Theme in D major, and the pianist takes her time to savor them, enjoying the music and making each note matter. Brahms' variations here are like soft layers falling one on top of the other, like snowflakes or leaves, accumulating little by little. Once again, Dostal's fire and energy emerge, dark energy that bubbles up from the low register and contrasts with the high, bright upper register. Variations on a Hungarian Song is the shortest piece on the album, and it makes an impact in a short time. The left hand marches up and down as the right plays the melody, and vice versa: classic Brahms counterpoint. Cascades of notes fall upon the ear, but then Brahms lets up, and suddenly the music is a light, graceful courtly dance. Dostal's touch becomes a bit hammered here, but one can forgive her due to the vigor she brings to the music. Her confidence is evident in Variations on a Theme by Handel, which has a mature sound to it as it starts. There is a more square, even beat, and it clearly feels like Handel. But it is when Brahms starts to put his own stamp on the music, about halfway through, that the music becomes exciting, that is, when the piece sounds more like Brahms than Handel. Dostal's technique is very much in place here and she truly understands the composer's intentions. Sometimes, as before, her touch is hammered rather than legato; taking the latter approach would bring a more lyrical quality to her playing. Also, as it is a piece full of variations, Dostal could have varied her tempi and pacing more, giving more nuance to the phrasing. However, Dostal deserves to be commended for such a task, for taking on the works of a challenging master and giving them her full attention.
AllMusic Review by V. Vasan