As everyone with a thesaurus knows, urgency rhymes with emergency. And these performances of Rachmaninov's works for piano and orchestra by Stephen Hough with Andrew Litton leading the Dallas Symphony are nothing if they are not urgent. Hough's tempos are quick and strong and vital, with plenty of rubato and lots of accelerando. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that.
When he announced in 2004 that he was stepping down as music director from the Royal Concertgebouw, easily one of the best orchestras in the world, it would have been easy for anyone to brand Riccardo Chailly as clinically insane. His announcement stunned the music world. The young, passionate Chailly had succeeded in bringing a new energy and vitality to the Concertgebouw during his impressive 16-year tenure.
It's the late Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121, that get the big print on the cover of this release by the awe-inspiring baritone Matthias Goerne, but actually the music on the album falls into a neat early-middle-late classification scheme. The group of middle-period settings of poetry by Heinrich Heine doesn't even get graphics on the cover, but these are fascinating. Brahms wrote a lot of songs, but you couldn't do better than the selection and performances here for a cornerstone collection item. Beyond the sheer beauty of Goerne's voice is an ability to shift gears to match how Brahms' style evolved. If you want to hear his real slashing, operatic high notes, check out the Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 32, settings of poems by the minor poets Georg Friedrich Daumer and Karl August Graf von Platen. These rather overwrought texts add up to a kind of slimmed-down Winterreise, and they catch the spirit of the still-young Brahms with his strong passions, elegantly controlled. The Heine settings, which come from several different sets of lieder, are not that often heard and are in some ways the most compelling of the group here.
When Pogorelich did not make the finals of the 1980 Warsaw Competition (where they play exclusively Chopin), his response was to sign with Deutsche Grammophon for his first recording and he made it an all-Chopin affair. From his stunning opening take on Chopin's Sonata #2, to a Funeral March restored to its grandeur, to the breaktaking final moments of the Scherzo #3, Pogorelich announced to the music world that he'd arrived.
The ultimate blindfold test, this disc contains recorded performances of Beethoven's "Archduke" Piano Trio as well as his Variations on "Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu," but nowhere does it say who the performers are. This is, of course, unacceptable. While it is acceptable to buy a recording of a performance, it is unacceptable not to attribute the performers.
Mitsuko Uchida has been a committed exponent of Schoenberg's Piano Concerto for over a decade now. It is a work which remains controversial in its adaptation of the serial method to an almost Brahmsian harmonic palette, wedded to a formal approach that takes up the integrated design, and textural richness, of Schoenberg's pre-atonal works. Certainly in terms of the balance between soloist and orchestra, this recording clarifies the often capricious interplay to a degree previously unheard on disc (and most likely in the concert hall too).Interpretatively, it combines Pollini's dynamism, without the hectoring touch that creeps into the Adagio's climactic passages, and Brendel's lucidity, avoiding the deadpan feeling that pervades his final Giocoso.