Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Schumann: Introduction and Allegro appasionato. Idil Biret, piano; Antoni Wit, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice). Naxos 8.554089.

If at first you don't succeed.... After the initial failure of his First Piano Concerto, German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) waited almost twenty years before attempting his second one. These days, most classical-music fans view both concertos as cornerstones of Romantic classical music, even if I find them sometimes a tad ponderous.

Whatever, the Second Piano Concerto begins in somewhat massive fashion, an echo of the First perhaps, with a long opening movement containing stretches of purely orchestral impressions. The second movement is lighter and zippier, although not by a lot. The leisurely third movement Andante arrives just in time to save the piece from collapsing under its own weight, and the frolicsome finale further saves the day by elevating the music to memorability. The Second is a touch more lyrical than the craggier First, and it has found much favor in the process.

Idil Biret
Turkish concert pianist Idil Biret's playing seems a little perfunctory in the opening sections, but it becomes most able in the final movements. Compared to my two favored pianists in this work, Emil Gilels (DG) and Stephan Kovacevich (Philips), Ms. Biret appears slightly mechanical, never quite expressing either the grandness of the opening movement or the poetry of the slow movement. Nevertheless, she does play forcefully throughout the piece and especially charmingly in the closing part. Overall, her playing appears virtuosic, expansive, and outgoing, certainly well within keeping, given the Romantic tradition, and her straightforward style may appeal to many listeners.

The orchestral accompaniment of Maestro Antoni Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony can range from burdensomely obscure to warmly, moodily transparent, depending, I suppose, on the mood of the engineers. Some of the sound Naxos provides is excellent, particularly the piano tone; at other times the sonics seem to lapse into something a bit more undefined.

I found the disc's coupling, Robert Schumann's Introduction and Allegro appasionato, more to my liking, being more concisely treated as well as striking a better balance between orchestra and soloist.

At a relatively low Naxos price, this Brahms issue may seem a bargain, but if one remembers that the Gilels and Kovacevich recordings cost really about the same as the Naxos, they can look like more and more like absolute treasures.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

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.

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa