Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor; Four Ballades, Op. 10

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor; Four Ballades, Op. 10
PERFORMER: Rudolf Buchbinder (piano); Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-25253-2
Buchbinder and Harnoncourt treat the D minor Concerto to a dignified performance that offers a convincing range of emotional expression, from brooding introspection to strenuous proclamation. Buchbinder rises to the latter moments with a fine frenzy, although the general framework of the performance is several notches less intense and ecstatic than the classic Curzon/Szell account, and the sound of the piano is hard and unatmospheric. The closing horn-calls of the finale find Harnoncourt fussing with phrasing instead of conjuring up the power of the moment, and in the Second similar preoccupations with detail take centre stage. Some interesting touches emerge (note the spiritedly accented rhythmic surprises near the beginning of the scherzo); often, though, the results sound finicky, as in the first orchestral tutti of the opening movement. It’s Buchbinder’s playing (at least as recorded) that most seriously mars this performance, however. He displays commitment and musicality, but adopts exaggeratedly detached articulation that impedes tonal allure (the sec treatment of the opening cadenza is symptomatic). Despite its technical difficulties, this concerto frequently calls for whimsy and intimacy from the soloist, but the effect Buchbinder makes is almost unrelievedly hectic, in part because the tempi Harnoncourt adopts for the last two movements are uncommonly brisk. Buchbinder’s playing of the filler works runs true to form: on the first disc he offers a beautifully imagined account of the Op. 10 Ballades, while the second includes a pugnacious traversal of the Rhapsodies, Op. 79. David Breckbill

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