Daniel Barenboim plays Brahms: The Piano Concertos

Daniel Barenboim plays Brahms's Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2 with the Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms: The Piano Concertos
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Concertino for two pianos; Tarantella for two pianos
PERFORMER: Daniel Barenboim (piano); Staatskapelle Berlin/Gustavo Dudamel
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 4899

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Recorded live in Berlin in September 2014, these accounts of the Brahms Piano Concertos may have some ups and downs, yet they capture on the wing a vibrant partnership between grand maestro at the piano and young lion on the podium.

The quality of that partnership keeps everything on the rails. Daniel Barenboim’s pianism here can seem a little ponderous, but comes across with a sense of titanic will. His octaves, for example, feel monolithic in strength, part of his elemental concepts that remain jagged at the biting edge of the D minor First Concerto, and gear-changes between shifting tempos are unusually plentiful; but he and conductor Gustavo Dudamel together manage to ensure that no sense of disconnect occurs.

Occasional moments of unexpected magic flair up, such as the vibrant exchange between piano and cellos in the second movement of the B flat major Second Concerto, and I defy anyone to breathe during its slow movement in the minutes before the return of the cello solo (whose player, incidentally, deserves a credit, but doesn’t get one).

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More troublesome than Barenboim’s occasional splashiness in his playing is the very close miking of the piano, which creates an artificial balance, or one may say a lack of it, with the orchestra. The Staatskapelle Berlin – Barenboim’s home ensemble – sounds gorgeous under Dudamel: the muscle is toned, the sinew pliable, the portamentos honeyed and the ensemble top-notch. Yet it is botheringly relegated to the background in these most symphonic of concertos. Jessica Duchen