Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Quartet No. 1 (orch. Schoenberg)

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: EuroArts
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Quartet No. 1 (orch. Schoenberg)
PERFORMER: Daniel Barenboim (piano); Berlin PO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: 2053659
The Berlin Philharmonic’s ‘European Concerts’ find the orchestra making one-off appearances in some of Europe’s most striking locations. Here it performs in Athens’s Herodes Atticus Odeon, built in 161 AD and boasting considerably better acoustics than most 20th-century concert halls. Under a protective marquee canopy, Simon Rattle and Daniel Barenboim

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make a rare appearance together in an all-Brahms programme in summer 2004. A bonus documentary explains the European Concerts’ rationale

and serves equally as an idealistic plug for a federal Europe and the

Athens 2004 Olympic Games.

Musically, the experience is top-notch. Barenboim is an absolute powerhouse, matching the full orchestra’s force with high-octane playing, but capable of the greatest delicacy in the slow movement’s chains of trills as well as the massive assertion of will in the first movement, luminous in tone throughout. Rattle is a sympathetic partner – there’s no sign of that much-vaunted rivalry.

Yet it is the orchestra that is the real star of the show: full of young players giving their all and evidently feeling deeply involved, with excellent ensemble, solo spots gloriously rendered and phrasing coaxed by Rattle into a heartfelt lusciousness that lifts the spirits – especially in Schoenberg’s technicolour arrangement of the G minor Piano Quartet which is a joy from start to finish.

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Sound quality is warm and luscious to match, and the filming is sensitive to ancient scenery and youthful players alike. The only distraction, unfortunately, is the audience, who variously wander in late, chew gum, chat with their partners and occasionally decide to conduct along. Jessica Duchen