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Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1; Four Ballades

Royal Northern Sinfonia/Lars Vogt (piano) (Ondine)

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Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15; Four Ballades, Op. 10
Royal Northern Sinfonia/Lars Vogt (piano)
Ondine ODE 1330-2   71.59 mins

For good reason, performances of Brahms’s concertos usually employ someone on a podium, but not this account of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. That’s because of the collaborative sense of trust so well established between the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Lars Vogt, the pianist soon to complete his five-year tenure as the orchestra’s music director. He may well have conducted the orchestral tuttis, but everything sounds like large-scale chamber music –
albeit with an orchestra smaller than usually heard in this repertoire. In addition to being perhaps a little more authentic, the size of the band allows for some very fleet-footed playing in the counterpoint of the finale. But the piano sound, which has Brahmsian weight but is never too weighty, is better captured by the engineers than that of the orchestra.

Dating from the same year (1854) in which Brahms started work on what became this concerto, the somewhat austere Four Ballades Op. 10 make a very attractive counterweight. Vogt plays the second of these pieces with introspective warmth and captures all the strangeness of the fourth. The pianist’s thinking behind this programme is evidently the way in which this music emerges from out of Beethoven’s shadow, and his superb traversal of the Ballades supports such a view.


John Allison