Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 83; Capriccio in F sharp minor, Op. 76 No. 1; Intermezzo in E flat, Op. 117 No. 1; Capriccio in B minor, Op. 76 No. 2; Intermezzo in A, Op. 118 No. 2; Capriccio in C, Op. 76 No. 8
Anna Tsybuleva (piano); Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Ruth Reinhardt
Signum Classics SIGCD 674 71:42 mins
This is a far from ordinary performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a work that is too often beefed up with brawn at the expense of its darker emotions. Anna Tsybuleva, a former winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition, and the conductor Ruth Reinhardt take a collegial approach: this is not combat but conversation between piano and orchestra, which often meld together into a satisfying texture, even though the recorded balance sometimes seems to favour the piano a little too much, given the artists’ approach.
In moments of rare beauty, Tsybuleva reveals deep empathy for the hushed anguish cocooned in the heart of this concerto: for instance, the unexpected wave of passion in the Scherzo, or the exquisite nocturnal episode before the last return of the cello theme in the slow movement. The same hypnotic intensity fills her solo performances that complete the disc, especially the E flat and A major intermezzos which are played gorgeously.
The orchestra is at its best when individual instruments effectively conjure the phrasing of Lieder singers: the cello solo is particularly fine and the clarinets, in that nocturnal episode, blend wonderfully with the piano. Generally the orchestral sound offers more earthy depths than silky surface, especially as the recorded ambience does not always favour lavish tone; and not every change of pace within the concerto’s movements is wholly convincing. So as a whole, this set is a bit of a curate’s egg, but it has very special moments.