Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Klavierstucke, Op. 76. Nicholas Angelich, piano; Paavo Jarvi, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. Virgin Classics 50999 266349 2.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) premiered his Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1881, a product of his more relatively mature years. Whereas his Piano Concerto No. 1 of several decades earlier had been all craggy and muscular, the Concerto No. 2 is more lyrical, more relaxed, yet still a work of prodigious power and scope, with a huge opening movement that goes on for some eighteen minutes and three more following it (an unusual, four-movement arrangement for a concerto).

American pianist Nicholas Angelich's playing of the Concerto is not a mere addition to the orchestral accompaniment but very much a part of it, without actually usurping or overwhelming it. In other words, Angelich's piano and Paavo Jarvi's Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra are of a piece, working to convey the music in both a monumental and gently poetic manner. However, after hearing the music in its entirety, one might say they tend to favor the former aspects of the score with quite a towering, weighty performance.

The second movement is a Scherzo of sorts, although it has its lengthy moments of calm. Angelich uses this segment to display his virtuosity for all its worth. There follows an attractive Andante, in which Angelich seems to find himself most at home, the interplay between cello and piano most affecting. It is here, too, that the music most resembles that of Chopin, leading one to hope Angelich will record some Chopin in the near future (as I'm sure he will).

A spirited, graceful, full-throated Allegretto grazioso brings the work to a close, with Angelich and Jarvi taking apparent joy in the rustic air of the music.

Brahms's Klavierstucke, Op. 76, eight solo piano pieces that the composer wrote about the same time that he wrote his Second Piano Concerto, makes an appropriate companion. These little works are rhythmic, dreamy, rhapsodic, and bouncy by turns, and all highly Romantic.

The recording, which Virgin made in 2009, is a trifle soft and thick, but in a way it suits the music by imparting an air of soothing mist to the proceedings. Still, I would have preferred more openness and clarity. The piano itself shows up well focused and well integrated within the orchestral picture, neither dominating the ensemble nor being enveloped by it. The overall impression is one of bigness above all, not transparency.

While Angelich's performance of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto does not necessarily challenge the classic recordings from Emil Gilels (DG), Stephen Kovacevich (Philips and EMI), Arthur Rubinstein (RCA), Van Cliburn (RCA), and others, it is surely one to consider.


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John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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