ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Rudolf Buchbinder (piano); Vienna Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta
CATALOGUE NO: Sony CD: 88985371582; C Major DVD: 733508; Blu-ray: 733604
There’s always something heroic about Rudolf Buchbinder’s exploits. One thinks of his complete Haydn sonatas, his two Beethoven sonata cycles – one recorded in his twenties, the other in his fifties – and of his live recording of the Beethoven concerto cycle, directed from the keyboard and made in the space of a few pressured hours without a safety net. He never takes the easy route when an option exists to duck a score’s extreme technical demands, and his readings are unfailingly persuasive.
And so it is with these readings of the Brahms concertos. This is ground already well-trodden by this great Austrian pianist in celebrated recordings with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and with Zubin Mehta plus the Israel Philharmonic; as Buchbinder and the Vienna Philharmonic have a long history of collaboration, and since he’s now just turned 70, bringing back Mehta for yet another shot would, he apparently felt, set the seal on things.
Since this 90-minute ‘live’ recording (plus full audience) comes in three formats, and is described as having been recorded over three days at the Vienna Musikverein, and since the order of the works is reversed on the DVD and Blu-ray, I wondered if there might be some difference in the respective sound versions, but bar-for-bar comparisons prove they are one and the same. Buchbinder regards the first concerto as impossible to follow with any other work, so he always plays it last.
Some video recordings have such distracting camera-work that it’s better to listen with one’s eyes shut, but not so here: the cameras don’t jump around, and the close-ups are so well-chosen that one almost feels inside the performance – particularly appropriate, given the alternating ebullience and inwardness of Buchbinder’s playing, and that he doesn’t spend much time watching Mehta because of their evident symbiosis of intention. Moreover, Buchbinder’s virtuosity is supremely relaxed, with no playing to the gallery. When Brahms calls for lyricism, he provides it with a wonderfully unforced sincerity – as does the solo cellist in the second concerto’s Andante; when the composer wants the earth to tremble, Buchbinder’s playing rises nobly to the challenge.