Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Schumann: Introduction and Concert Allegro. Idil Biret, piano; Antoni Wit, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.554088.

One of the resident pianists of the Naxos label, Idil Biret, was bound to get to the Brahms First Piano Concerto sooner or later, and in 2001 she got there.

After one of the longest introductions to any concerto anywhere, the piano finally makes its entrance at about the four-minute mark, providing the pianist has stayed around long enough to come in on time. Ms. Biret attacks the opening movement with vigor and pounds out the notes in appropriately heroic fashion. If she misses some of the craggy work's subtler moments, especially in the Adagio, she more than makes up for it in pure adrenaline.

Idil Biret
I especially enjoyed the closing Rondo where the massive structure of the concerto's beginning gives way to a more lyrical yet still energetic tone. Ms. Biret seems more at home here and concludes the piece in a most poignant manner.

Frankly, though, I liked Ms. Biret's work in the companion piece, Robert Schumann's Introduction and Concert Allegro, better than her work in the Brahms. Schumann's piece, written in 1853, his late period, is a kind of condensed piano concerto in a single, fifteen-minute movement. It works fine, and Ms. Biret brings out the poetic charm as well as the Romantic bravura in it. Meanwhile, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra play about as well as one could want, although they are not really in the class of the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony, or the London Philharmonic.

The sound of the disc is typical Naxos of the day, meaning the orchestra appears a little thick, dark, and soft, while the piano remains firm and clear. The sonics have good range, too, good stereo width, and at least a moderate depth of image.

Still and all, in comparison to rivals in the Brahms like Giles on DG, Curzon on Decca, and Kovacevich on EMI or Decca/Newton Classics/Philips, the listener may find both the sound and the performance on the Naxos issue a bit wanting. The two earlier competitors, Giles and Curzon, are framed in more transparent, if slightly noisier, analogue sound; and Kovacevich on the newer EMI has the advantage of a quieter digital recording. Nevertheless, if price is a consideration, there is always the fact that this release isn't probably going to cost you as much as the others mentioned. You get what you pay for.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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