COMPOSERS: Brahms; R Strauss
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms • R Strauss
WORKS: Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2; R Strauss: Burleske
PERFORMER: Joseph Moog (piano); Deutsche Radio Philharmonie/Nicholas Milton
CATALOGUE NO: 4169
Something seems missing from this account of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Joseph Moog’s opening flourishes are dry, and his Allegro non troppo carries no sense of emotional drive; his passagework lacks lyricism; the orchestral playing is efficient, but has no signposting to what should be the score’s moments of wonder. The second movement lacks Romantic Aufschwung; yet things come satisfyingly together in the cello-led Andante, and the finale is a smooth canter.
But this CD’s USP is the work which follows, whereon hangs an odd little tale which Jeremy Nicholas relates in his liner note. Hans von Bülow, who conducted the first public run-through of Brahms’s Second Concerto, appointed the young Richard Strauss as his assistant conductor, and in return for his support Strauss dedicated to him a single-movement work for piano and orchestra. Bülow refused to learn it, thinking it unplayable (he did have unusually small hands); three years later Strauss offered it to the virtuoso pianist Eugen d’Albert, made cuts and changes, and retitled it Burleske, whereupon under d’Albert’s hands it duly entered the repertoire. Bülow agreed to conduct d’Albert in it, yet still maintained that despite flashes of genius it was in other respects ‘horrifying’.
Is it? Strauss was 21 when he wrote it, and it reflects his bursting confidence in what he could do. There are parodies of Liszt’s pyrotechnics, of Chopin’s concerto style, and of Brahms in big-boned orchestral mode; elegantly turned, and episodic in construction, it’s just a firework display – but it does showcase Moog’s technical prowess.