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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

Piano Concertos

  • Concerto for Piano #1 in D minor
  • Concerto for Piano #2 in B Flat Major
Nicholas Angelich, piano
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
Erato 0825646322954 2CDs 98:43
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from ArkivMusic.comFind it at CD Universe Find it at JPC

The Brahms concertos for piano are popular even in this niche market, but these are not new performances. Rather, they are from 2008 and 2009. To my knowledge, they are coupled together for the first time. In an age when Warner Classics is busy rebranding EMI, it's nice to see the label paying so much attention to Erato's impressive recorded legacy. I do wish that record companies would stop releasing the concertos without couplings, though. Both discs had solo piano works attached upon first entering the field, and I see no reason to shortchange collectors who happen to admire this pianist. Paavo Järvi obviously remains a major contributor as well as a major talent, but I doubt he had any problem with the solo selections then or now. Major labels never learn.

Angelich is actually new to my collection, one of the main reasons I requested this set. Neither I nor my fellow collectors really need a new set of these concertos, but there is much to cherish in these reissues. As mentioned, Paavo Järvi is a fabulous artist who gets some intensely focused playing from his Frankfurt forces. If they don't quite match the great orchestras of the world in this repertoire, neither do they embarrass themselves in any way. This is quite good in fact, but misses some of the drama that artists like Szell and Jochum brought to these works. Mind you, that's a tall order; Szell literally owned these pieces in stereo. On the minus side, Järvi simply doesn't bring enough to the party in places despite the quality results. The Concerto #1 would have particularly benefited from more incisive and gritty orchestral work.

However, Angelich is a superb artist who really does play Brahms exceptionally well. Some artists make these works far too heavy, mistaking seriousness of purpose for an utter lack of spirit. The pianist is having none of that. Angelich impresses on all counts, from the uncommon combination of strength and poetry to the rapture he creates with some simply magical entrances. If I find Järvi and company a touch lacking in the First, the pianists' opening of the slow movement is worth it. Pianist and conductor seem to collaborate more amicably in the Concerto #2, which really does bring out the very best in both artists. I still miss the emotional weight of a Szell here, but there is little else to complain about. Angelich delivers an exceptional reading; he's beautifully recorded and attuned to all kinds of details. It should be said that Järvi's Frankfurt forces play lovingly, with fine solo turns. Not to be confused with the great classics of the past, but also not to be missed, this set is great value for fans of the artists, or Brahms generally. If only the solo works had been retained!

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman