Brahms: Piano Concerto No.1; Hungarian Dances Nos 1-7, 11, 14 & 17

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Piano Concerto No.1; Hungarian Dances Nos 1-7, 11, 14 & 17
PERFORMER: Nicholas Angelich, Frank Braley (piano), Frankfurt radio SO/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 518 9982
Both conductor and soloist take a lyrical approach to this Concerto. Paavo Järvi’s tapering of the opening melodic gesture modifies its usually brusque, implacable drama, and Nicholas Angelich’s expansive ruminations in the second theme, although expressive and dignified, border on the languid. A similar spirit also hovers over the Adagio, which some will find impressively sustained, others excessively abstracted. There are numerous lovely moments – such as the lightness and lilt beginning at bar 287 (13:42) in the first movement – but less satisfying is the reserved, reined-in treatment of the material after the cadenza in the finale, which not only dampens ‘the solemn reawakening towards a majestic close’ that Joachim admired (and which George Szell so unforgettably forges in his Decca recording with Clifford Curzon), but requires the performers to accelerate at the passage Brahms marks ‘Meno mosso’. Angelich has the solo part well in hand, but beyond the tendency toward control and deliberation apparent from his earlier Brahms recordings, one might object to certain moments of rich but heavily pedaled and homogeneous texture  – he largely foregoes the staccato articulation requested in the left-hand accompaniment of the finale’s second theme, for example. The recorded sound is naturally balanced. High spirits in the Hungarian Dances notwithstanding, Angelich and Frank Braley seem inadequately unified in intent and unequally yoked dynamically.

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