BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 – Nicholas Angelich, piano/ Frankfurt Radio Sym. Orch./ Paavo Jarvi – Erato 0825646322954 (2 CDs) 51:32, 48:46 (4/8/14) [Distr. by Warner Classics] ****:
This set repackages individual Brahms performances from 5-9 February 2007 (D Minor Concerto) and 6-9 April 2009 (B-flat Major Concerto) that Angelich inscribed at the Sendesaal, Hessischer Rundfunk, Frankfurt. The new format omits the solo piano music that had supplemented the concertos rather effectively. The first movement of the 1858 D Minor Concerto, passionately broad, once more “reduces” the shock of the “infamously slow” Glenn Gould/Leonard Bernstein tempo that had appeared so outrageous in its time. If the tumultuous aspect suffers for lack of speed, it gains in authority, girth, and Romantic agony. Angelich treats the piano part as a kind of lyric, operatic principal in an ongoing dialogue with an embittered chorus. We wonder if Gluck’s picture of Orfeo’s attempt to soothe the Styx divinities played a part in the Brahms sense of drama. In his musing, non-histrionic moments, Angelich imparts a strong sense of the Brahms debts to the keyboard styles of Schumann and Liszt.
The Adagio, a reverential requiem for the memory of Robert Schumann, indulges the long lugubrious melodic lines and bass harmonies, with Angelich’s obvious penchant for the poetic sensibility. Indeed, several of the keyboard figurations appear to take their cue from Schumann’s C Major Fantasie. The passionate side of Angelich’s temperament extends into the gruff Rondo and its six variants, whose contrapuntal tendencies once more ally Brahms to his idols Bach and Beethoven. Jarvi, too, earns plaudits for the warm sympathy from the orchestral part.
The 1881 B-flat Major Concerto inspires Angelich and Jarvi to mount as epic a reading as one could imagine, certainly on a par with the famed Gilels/Jochum collaboration of a generation ago. Angelich savors the cascades of grand chords just as much as Jarvi loves tossing string and horn colors into the stratosphere. That the epithet “symphony with piano obbligato” often defines this massive work finds absolute justification with these principals. The aristocratic leisure of the first movement breaks off, temporarily, for the D Minor Scherzo, which reveals some truly demonic thrusts and rhetorical gestures, even a touch of mystery. With the lovely Andante and its famed cello solo we return to expansive lyricism that provides the raison d’etre for this reading. No less gracious and magnanimous in spirit, the concluding Allegretto grazioso testifies to a natural Brahms exponent in Angelich, whose masterful technique embraces the composer’s truth and poetry without undue inflation of the latter to spoil its moments of sincere intimacy.