LABELS: Decca Legends
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat
PERFORMER: Wilhelm Backhaus (piano); Vienna PO/Karl Böhm
CATALOGUE NO: 466 380-2 ADD Reissue (1956, 1967)
Clifford Curzon’s 1962 recording of the Brahms D minor Concerto was rightly adjudged a landmark interpretation of this tempestuous, impassioned early masterpiece. That it still holds its own today attests both to Curzon’s profound mastery, and George Szell’s shrewdly calculated orchestral support. Franck’s Symphonic Variations, and the perennial Litolff Scherzo (both with Boult and the LPO) make enjoyable, though lightweight listening beside Curzon’s Brahms, a worthy alternative to Pollini’s 1977 DG Galleria account, generally unbeatable at mid-price.
Wilhelm Backhaus was 83 years old when (in 1967) he taped the second Brahms concerto in Vienna. It remains one of the most coercively beautiful and deeply personal recordings ever made of this work, though Mozart’s K.595 (recorded in 1955) seems occasionally ponderous. Decca’s 24-bit remastering sounds impressive in the Brahms (a useful foil to Pollini’s midpriced DG version, also with Böhm and the VPO), but hasn’t rejuvenated Backhaus’s Mozart nearly so well. Michael Jameson