Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466; Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat, K595
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano); Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
CATALOGUE NO: 479 2384

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Maurizio Pollini, Christian Thielemann and the Dresden Staatskapelle here follow up their five-star recording of Brahms’s D minor Concerto with a live recording of No. 2 from January 2013 in the Semperoper. Impressive though it is, I was less sure of the ultimate value of this interpretation as an entry in a very crowded field (see my reviews of excellent recordings by Stephen Hough and Hélène Grimaud in the same work in the February 2014 issue). The orchestral playing is generally fantastic – the ever-dependable Thielemann, who has already proved himself a first-rate Brahmsian, coaxes a wonderful sound –  while Pollini is of course charismatic and forceful and never less than intelligent: but I wondered if for all his poetic force he was somewhat on auto-pilot.

A couple of spots of untidy ensemble in the first two movements of course count for nothing in the live-performance context, but overall this seems a performance with few surprises, one that hardly penetrates to the heart of this complex work, despite some beautiful playing (and a fine cello solo) in the slow movement. It does not seem to me the equal, as an interpretation, of Pollini’s earlier account of the work with the late Claudio Abbado. In one sense it only seems to come to life with the high jinks and clowning of the finale, where Pollini is ready to let his hair down. A distinguished addition to Pollini’s discography, for sure, but though others may disagree, for me this never quite catches fire.
 

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Calum MacDonald