Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano); Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 447 041-2
Maurizio Pollini’s new account of this torrential masterpiece is the expected distillation of heroic pianism and confessional insight. It’s difficult, though, to commend this, or any other full-price issue offering less than 45 minutes playing time and no fillers, especially where useful alternatives exist.


Abbado’s black-browed orchestral introduction has enough bite and vitriol to make Pollini’s understated first entry seem bitterly resigned, and his traversal of the epic opening Maestoso (21:02) is marginally slower than in his 1980 recording with Böhm and the VPO, available in DG’s Galleria series. The new Adagio lacks something of the heavenly stasis attained previously, and at 12:11 seems occasionally hurried. Pollini’s 13:23 with Böhm, or Andsnes and Rattle at 14:08 are nearer the mark, though the siren voices of the Berlin solo horn and winds add special rapture here, and a quicker basic pulse certainly sustains the urgent character of the work.


The Hungarian sonata-rondo finale mirrors the 1980 performance so closely that Pollini devotees won’t need to ditch his earlier account for this remake, a live recording from Vienna’s Musikverein, which affords no great gains over its digitised predecessor. Neither performance, however, alters my benchmark allegiance, which stays with Stephen Kovacevich on EMI. With ardent support from Sawallisch and the LPO, Kovacevich explores Brahms’s emotive subtext and wide-ranging keyboard sonorities eloquently, and matches Pollini’s cathartic outpourings after the storm during the final moments. As to fillers, Andsnes sounds happier in the Op. 117 Intermezzi than in the Concerto itself, while Ann Murray, Nobuko Imai and Kovacevich seduce the ear in the two songs with viola obbligato, Op. 91. Michael Jameson