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Brahms The Progressive, Vol. 2

Pina Napolitano (piano); Lithuanian National Symphony/Modestas Pitrėnas (Odradek)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Brahms The Progressive, Vol. 2
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2; Webern: Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 24
Pina Napolitano (piano); Lithuanian National Symphony/Modestas Pitrėnas
Odradek ODRCD413   58:52 mins

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Pina Napolitano borrows the title of her album, Brahms the Progressive, from a famous 1947 article by Schoenberg. What Schoenberg particularly admired in Brahms was the asymmetrical nature of his music, and although at first glance nothing could seem further from the expansiveness and grandeur of Brahms’s four-movement Second Piano Concerto than the concision and crystalline precision of Webern’s Concerto Op. 24, both have in common the notion of perpetual variation which was another feature of Brahms’s music that appealed to Schoenberg. Webern’s isn’t a concerto in the conventional sense, but a chamber piece in which the piano is just one of the nine instruments that contribute to the musical argument on entirely equal terms. Its slow movement, with the piano accompanying the remaining members of the ensemble in caressing two-note phrases, seems distantly to hark back to Brahms’s late piano intermezzos. It is finely played here, in what is altogether a warm and affectionate account of this seminal work.

The Brahms receives an impressive performance, too, though Napolitano perhaps lacks that final ounce of intensity the music needs in the impetuously dramatic cadenza-like passage which so startlingly breaks the spell of the concerto’s relaxed opening pages. The uncredited cello soloist in the slow movement plays with admirable tenderness, and the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra makes a fine contribution, with its principal conductor Modestas Pitrėnas showing an unfailing grasp of the music’s overall structure throughout. Altogether, this disc was a real and unexpected pleasure.

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Misha Donat