WORKS: Piano Concerto No.1; Two Songs Op. 91
PERFORMER: Stephen Kovacevich (piano), Ann Murray (mezzo soprano), Nobuko Imai (viola); LPO/Wolfgang Sawallisch
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54578-2
‘Just think what I dreamed last night’, Brahms told Clara Schumann. ‘I had used my symphony which came to grief for a piano concerto.’ The dream came true: what had begun life as a sonata for two pianos, and then been sketched out as the start of a symphony, became a grandly imposing concerto opening movement.
It is much to Sawallisch’s credit that this first movement – one of the most thrilling in all Brahms – conveys solemnity without ever sacrificing drama and tension. Stephen Kovacevich is on top form, too: just listen to the exhilarating way he launches (aided by Wimbledon-style grunts) into the powerful double octaves at the start of the central section. The serene slow movement – a requiem for Schumann – is quite beautifully handled, and there’s no shortage of gipsy exuberance in the finale.
The LPO play superbly throughout, and my only reservation – a small one – concerns the piano’s very first entry. Brahms composes a ‘dissolve’, in which the soloist takes over the cellos’ figuration. Kovacevich’s left-hand rubato here means that the transition is not quite as seamless as it should be.
The serene late songs with viola, touchingly sung by Ann Murray, provide an extra incentive to acquire this outstanding release. Misha Donat