Brahms: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2

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LABELS: EuroArts
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Daniel Barenboim (piano); Munich Philharmonic/Sergiu Celibidache
CATALOGUE NO: 206 6688 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 4:3 picture format)


These performances were filmed in 1991, when Sergiu Celibidache was in his 80th year and he and Daniel Barenboim interpretatively at the height of their powers. There’s a clear feeling of rapport between them, and of a close bond between Celibidache and the Munich Philharmonic. The D minor Concerto was filmed in the rather cavernous, conventionally laid-out Stadthalle in Erlangen, the B flat in the golden-yellowish wood and counterintuitive geometry of the Munich Philharmonie’s Gasteig. The contrasted settings complement contrasted approaches, suggested in turn by the very different characters of the two works. Celibidache and Barenboim produce a very monumental D minor: the basic tempo for the huge first movement is broad and measured, but the cumulative power of the build-up throughout the structure to a rivetingly dramatic coda evokes nothing but admiration. The slow movement seems almost to float, dreamlike, and there is some delightfully pointed string-playing in the last movement’s fugue.

Great warmth, but also extreme clarity of sound and instrumental balance, distinguishes Barenboim and Celibidache’s view of the B flat Concerto; at times the effect is almost of a much-expanded Mozart concerto, though there is plenty of fire in the playing when necessary, as in the outer sections of the scherzo. Barenboim is the picture of concentration, and, though he is not note-perfect in some of the trickier passages of the B flat, one never feels he isn’t in perfect command and bringing decades of experience and understanding to bear on these performances. There’s nothing flashy about the visuals, and quite a limited range of camera angles, but the picture of Celibidache at the helm, craggy yet beneficent, is something to behold. There are no extras.


Calum MacDonald