There's nothing revelatory in this live recording of Brahms' two piano concertos by an American pianist, Japanese conductor, and Australian orchestra. That is, except for the music itself. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson, with an octave-and-a-half reach equal to Brahms' own, has the power for the titanic Beethovenian gestures of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, and for its foot-stomper of a finale, which is as good a place as any for the neophyte classical listener to start. Ohlsson is equally adept in catching the spacious and subtle dimensions of the second concerto, which one Viennese critic termed a symphony with piano obbligato.
Chopin's two piano concertos have long been admired more as pianistic vehicles than as integrated works for piano and orchestra. But in his revelatory new recording, Krystian Zimerman suggests otherwise: The opening orchestral tuttis have so much more light, shade, orchestral color, and detail, you wonder if they've been rewritten. Every gesture, every instrumental solo is so specifically characterized that by the time the piano makes a dramatic entrance, the pieces have become operas without words.
It was an eminently sensible decision to couple Zimerman's previously separate Chopin concertos on a single CD. The Ax/Ormandy/RCA disc is the only rival as a coupling, so let me say at once that in different moods I would be equally happy with either. The main difference, I think, is the actual sound. From DG we get a closer, riper sonority, with Zimerman's piano much more forwardly placed. Both orchestra and piano are more distanced on the RCA recording, especially Ax's piano. This, together with Ax's lighter, more translucent semiquaver figuration (and sometimes his greater willingness to stand back and merely accompany—as in certain episodes in the F minor Concerto's finale) often conjures up visions of Chopin himself at the keyboard, and we know he was often criticized for insufficiently strong projection.
Elisabeth Leonskaja is a highly respected (former Soviet) pianist whose career blossomed in the shadow of Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels. Known for her modesty – not unlike older compatriot Maria Yudina – Leonskaja was mentored by Richter and often played duets with him. She would never reach the critical and artistic heights of her great teacher, but her reputation as an imaginative interpreter and formidable technician have lifted her to almost legendary status, with comparisons to Clara Haskil and other keyboard icons…
Mozart, who composed 21 piano concerti, can be regarded as the “inventor” of the popular piano concerto. Although J.S. Bach and his son had written numerous concerti for harpsichord or fortepiano and orchestra before him, Mozart’s enormous input to the genre is mostly due to his concerti being regarded as ‘popular music’ by his contemporaries: to be enjoyed and replaced quickly by newer works. For this series on four DVDs, the most influential, the most artistically challenging and the most popular piano concerti have been selected to be performed by the best Mozart interpreters of our time. The second volume features pianists André Previn, Zoltán Kocsis and Heidrun Holtmann performing the piano concerti Nos 1, 4, 23 and 24. The performances on this DVD were shot in highly attractive baroque venues – at the Teatro Scientifico del Bibiena in Mantua, in the Rittersaal of the Palais Waldstein in Prague and in the Grosse Galerie at Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna – capturing the atmosphere of Mozart’s lifetime.
Two generous, aristocratic musicians, both of Latin origin, join forces for these magnificent performances of Brahms’ piano concertos. Claudio Arrau spent a substantial period in Berlin, and through his teacher Martin Krause had a line to Franz Liszt, while Carlo Maria Giulini’s relationship with Austro-German music was deepened by his years as a viola player in Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, performing under such conductors as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter.
This recording presents the CD debut on Brilliant Classics of the Gutman Trio, named after Natalia Gutman, world famous cellist, one of the few surviving of the generation of 20th century soviet musicians, like Richter, Gilels, Kogan, Kagan, Rostropovich and Oistrakh. For their debut CD they chose two of the cornerstones of the romantic piano trio repertoire, the first and third piano trio by Brahms. The first trio Op. 8 is a gorgeous work from Brahms' early years, brimming with youthful passion and vitality; the third trio is in C minor mood, dark, grim and powerful.
First there was rhythm - pulsing, driving, primal rhythm. And a new word in musical terminology: Barbaro. As with sticks on skins, so with hammers on strings. The piano as one of the percussion family, the piano among the percussion family. The first and second concertos were written to be performed that way. But the rhythm had shape and direction, myriad accents, myriad subtleties. An informed primitivism. A Baroque primitivism. Then came the folkloric inflections chipped from the music of time: the crude and misshapen suddenly finding a singing voice. Like the simple melody - perhaps a childhood recollection - that emerges from the dogged rhythm of the First Concerto's second movement. András Schiff plays it like a defining moment - the piano reinvented as a singing instrument. His "parlando" (conversational) style is very much in Bartók's own image. But it's the balance here between the honed and unhoned, the brawn and beauty, the elegance and wit of this astonishing music that make these readings special.
This is playing in the grand manner… Ozawa and the orchestra are behind the soloist in all this and the deciso element is fully realized. But don't let me imply a lack of finesse; not only do lyrical sections sing with subtlety, the big passages also are shapely… In the gorgeously grisly Totentanz, both music and playing should make your hair stand on end. - C.H.; Gramophone