Brahms, Bach

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bach,Brahms
LABELS: Edelweiss Emission
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor
PERFORMER: Daniel Levy (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Brahms’s D minor Concerto emerges as an intense, turbulent work in the unforgettable recording by Clifford Curzon and George Szell; they, like many other performers, aim to summon cataclysmic energy while allowing room for ethereal introspection. The prevailing alternative view emphasises monumentality by adopting broad tempi; alas, too often the result is a moribund search for profundity.


At first this new account from Daniel Levy and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau seems to adopt the latter approach. Certainly it is more comfortable and less highly charged than most of those I admire. But what it lacks in drama this performance makes up in gracious phrasing and Levy’s unique expressive perspective. The Adagio is particularly revelatory. Instead of highlighting its contrast with the strenuous outer movements, Levy’s rhapsodic but breathtakingly intimate playing somehow bypasses the customary hushed reverence, allowing the music to soar unfettered. Other moments too offer similar benefits: for example, I cannot recall hearing quite so graceful a lilt at the soloist’s initial entrance in the first movement as here.


Throughout, there’s the consistent grain of humanity in Levy’s contribution: while many pianists give the impression of projecting this music, Levy seems to be listening to and relishing it as he goes. He’s no super-virtuoso (the broad tempi sometimes seem determined by technical constraints) but nevertheless rises to the challenge of the daunting pianistic writing. Fischer-Dieskau and the Philharmonia provide warm, rolling, luminously singing support, and Brahms’s arrangement for the left hand of Bach’s D minor Chaconne makes an eloquent filler. David Breckbill