Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat
Nelson Goerner (piano); NHK Symphony Orchestra/Tadaaki Otaka
Alpha ALPHA 395 49:46 mins
Brahms seems to have taken a sadistic delight in making his instrumental writing as awkward to play as possible, and the soloist’s part in Piano Concerto No. 2 is notoriously among the most difficult of all – far more difficult than it sounds. This is not only because of the work’s vast length – though its four-movement, 50-minute span outruns any previous concerto – but because the awkwardness has to be concealed. Apart from the feisty scherzo second movement and a few agitated episodes elsewhere, the music is meant to flow forth with the genial ease and seasoned wisdom of chamber music – in total contrast to the tragic heroics of the Concerto No. 1 of 22 years before.
And flow it certainly does in this beguiling live recording by Nelson Goerner and the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo under Tadaaki Otaka. Setting unhurried tempos and completely at one in matters of rubato and tempo-modification, conductor and soloist unfold the work as if gently impelled by an immensely slow rhythmic pendulum swing.
Goerner’s beauty of touch is manifest on the first page and, though he has the heft for the chunkier passages, the piano is never allowed to clang. Otaka’s shaping care for phrasing, dynamics and texture is already evident in the gentler middle section of the first movement’s opening tutti, and there are many poetic moments of hushed playing from the orchestra. There are, among listeners, otherwise dedicated Brahmsians who find the wayward sprawl of this particular work a bit questionable. Here is a recording to restore their faith.