Admittedly, I still warmly welcome any new recording by pianist Maurizio Pollini. In fact, I suppose it is a testament to my age that I continue to think of him of a "young" pianist, having first heard him only some fifty years ago. His interpretations may not always have the sparkle of those from some of today's new talents, but they always seem right. This 1998 release of the Brahms First Piano Concerto is no exception.
Pollini makes the dark, massive, craggy opening movement seem all the more ominous by his aggressive forward momentum and sometimes fierce attack. By comparison, Emil Gilels, my comparison because it's also on DG, is more relaxed and warmhearted. I suspect that although Gilels is the easier to listen to, it may be Pollini who is closer to the spirit of Brahms. In the second movement Adagio, however, I must favor Gilels's more congenial approach. Pollini seems just a tad distant in this section, even if the aristocratic central melody demands such treatment. The finale, the Rondo: Allegro non troppo, finds Pollini at his best, amply displaying the varied changes of temperament Brahms indicates and sounding more relentless than Gilels ever does.
So, all of this avoids the question: Is Pollini a first choice in this repertoire? Bottom line: No, not for me. If one already owns any of the above-named recordings, should Pollini displace them? No, I don't think so. Each interpretation bears its own mark, and Pollini's version certainly bears the stamp of nobility and authority. But for my own taste, the more idiosyncratic approach of Clifford Curzon continues to be the disc I play the most often for personal enjoyment. And don't forget that DG offer both of the Brahms concertos with Gilels in a mid-price "Originals" double package, which is pretty hard to pass up.
Also, be aware that the folks at DG make this concerto available from the same performers in a double-disc set with the Second Concerto. And that Pollini has recorded the Brahms concertos with several other conductors over the years, like Karl Bohm and, more recently, Christian Thielemann, all for DG. Choices, choices.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: