Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat
PERFORMER: Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano)Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-94544-2 DDD
The young American pianist Mark Anderson came third in the 1993 Leeds Competition and here makes his debut recording for Nimbus with a finely paced and forthright Brahms D minor which nevertheless just lacks star quality to shine in what is, after all, a crowded field. Unfazed by any of the work’s more strenuous demands, Anderson could still improve on subtleties of touch, though he is at his best in a searching, poetic account of the slow movement. He gets fiery support from the orchestra, which shines in its joint advocacy of Dohnányi’s delightful variations, a coupling which certainly enhances the disc’s desirability.

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Elisabeth Leonskaja’s thoughtful approach to the B flat Concerto eschews conventional polarities between leonine barnstorming and playful serenity. She has adequate muscle for the big moments (though occasionally her left-hand work is a bit stiff), but it’s an unusually restless, exploratory account of a work whose essential nature is perhaps too much taken for granted. She continually gives the impression of hearing this concerto anew, locating its rich strain of chamber music writ huge, discovering pathos and emotional ambiguity in unexpected places.

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Masur and the Leipzig Orchestra partner her with flexibility and understanding, painting the instrumental colours with more chiaroscuro than usual. Occasional audience noise in the Gewandhaus doesn’t detract from a performance which, while not perhaps the most recommendable of current versions, certainly holds the attention throughout. Calum MacDonald