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.
About the Author
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.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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