Nelson Goerner

The Argentine pianist, who stars on our October cover CD, tells us why Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 packs an emotional punch

What have been the greatest influences on you as a pianist?
I can easily say that Artur Rubinstein’s playing was my first love when I was a small child. One of the very first records I got was his Chopin Nocturnes, and I still clearly remember I thought these marvellous works could not be played better. Later I discovered Alfred Cortot. I wished I could have been older and had the chance to experience that unique singing sound, that incredible freedom and nobility in his shaping of phrases. At about the same time I discovered Vladimir Horowitz and his staggering emotional power, almost beyond belief. Then I discovered Rachmaninov, Artur Schnabel, Edwin Fischer, Wilhelm Kempff and treasured all the records I could get of their performances. Of the pianists I’ve heard live, there was Martha Argerich, when I was 17, playing three concertos on the same evening in Buenos Aires. Many of us had not heard her live as she had not been back in 14 years. It was simply overwhelming – that electricity, that magic of the moment. Later, in Europe, I heard Radu Lupu who quickly became one of my greatest sources of inspiration, one of my very favourite artists. And I had the chance to hear Shura Cherkassky and Annie Fischer – I still have in my ears the glorious sounds they produced and their interpretations.

What inspires you about Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and do you have a favourite moment?
One of the many fascinating aspects of this work is that, for all the depth and gravity of its great message, it is full of the vitality, passion and ardour of the young man Brahms was when he wrote it. And what a difficult balance it is to reach in interpretation. It would be hard to mention a favourite moment, because the incredible emotional, dramatic power of the piece keeps us on the edge of our seats with all our senses involved from the very beginning. I feel so deeply shaken by the orchestral exposition that I often find it difficult to start the first solo.

What individuality do you hope to bring to your own interpretation of the concerto?
I have lived with Brahms’s D minor concerto for 15 years now, which is a relatively long time span for me. I think that, perhaps, real individuality comes into your playing when you are not really conscious of it or seeking it: when every day, with passion and humility, you strive to get closer, by shaping a phrase or placing an accent or a new inflection, to a message that is far greater than ourselves. That is the basis on which, with hard work and learning from your own mistakes, you will achieve a sound that is really individual.

This is a ‘live’ recording, does that give it something ‘extra’?
I have always preferred ‘live’ recording. I do not have a big experience in the recording studio (that may partly explain why) but somehow I don’t find it easy to have the necessary urge simply because the red light is on. With an audience at least there is a chance of things flowing more naturally, more freely from your inner self. You really want to communicate, you want everyone to sense that the particular piece you are playing at that moment is the thing that matters most to you. And often I feel that, in spite of all the things I did not want or that I would have wanted differently, it still sounds better to me than a studio recording.

Interview by Alice Pearson

Audio clip: Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 – Maestoso

Related links:
October 2009 issue
Proms Diary: Part 12 – Living legends 
Meet the Artist: Stephen Hough
Meet the Artist: Yuja Wang

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