BRAHM: Piano Concerto No. 1, Haydn Variations – Cedric Tiberghien /BC Symphony Orchestra/Jiri Belohlavek, conductor – Harmonia mundi

by | Mar 7, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1, Haydn Variations – Cedric Tiberghien /BC Symphony Orchestra/Jiri Belohlavek, conductor – Harmonia mundi HMC 901977, 69 min. **** :

Johannes Brahms’ close friend and associate Robert Schumann was his staunchest ally; he offered limitless encouragement to the young Brahms, and even proclaimed in the German music press that Brahms was the “musical genius of the future.” He also wrote passionately concerning Brahms’ writing for the piano; he felt it would translate magnificently to the orchestra. The work that eventually became the Piano Concerto No. 1 traveled a rather convoluted path; it originated as a sonata for two pianos, which Brahms later orchestrated with the intent of making it a symphony. He then reconfigured the work, choosing to again include the piano, and this ultimately became his first piano concerto. His first symphony – which had been his original intention – would not materialize for another 27 years.

There are many good recordings of this concerto available; my personal references lean toward the Rubinstein/Reiner/CSO on RCA, and the Gilels/Jochum/BPO on Deutsche Grammophon. While I didn’t expect to find a replacement for either of those excellent recordings, I was pleasantly surprised at how favorably this new disc compares to both. While both reference versions are superb models of performance values, neither possesses particularly impressive sonics. This new recording from Harmonia mundi shows that young French pianist Cedric Tiberghien has a thorough understanding of Brahms’ oeuvre; he receives sympathetic accompaniment from Jiri Belohlavek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Tiberghien expertly traverses the broad spectrum of emotions that Brahms pours into this masterwork of the genre; from the thunderous first movement to the delicate pianisms of the second movement Adagio, Cedric Tiberghien proves his affinity for this music. Belohlavek and the BBC Symphony’s skillful offering of the Haydn Variations makes a superb companion to this already outstanding all-Brahms program.

Sonically, this Red Book CD is first-class; the astonishingly good performances make this a compelling offering indeed. If you’re looking for an introduction to these works, or simply would like a more modern recording in top-shelf sound, you’d be hard pressed to do better. Very highly recommended!

— Tom Gibbs

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