WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat
PERFORMER: Idil Biret (piano); Polish National RSO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554089
An imaginative coupling. Brahms owed a great deal to Schumann, musically and personally. Listening to the Introduction and Allegro appassionato after Brahms’s glorious Second Piano Concerto one can sense Brahms’s indebtedness; but the Schumann inhabits a completely different expressive world – less direct, more nervously inward-looking than Brahms. And the relationship between piano and orchestra is less that of romantic dialogue – the orchestra is treated more as a kind of colour-enhanced extension of the piano; which is not to say that the results can’t be very beautiful.
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the performances. Granted the Polish orchestra plays warmly and expressively for Antoni Wit; the horn vibrato (a sticking point for some British ears) isn’t excessive, and the famous opening solo of the Brahms is well-shaped. The recording too is warm-toned, if a little cloudy at times. But for all her strength and impressive agility, Idil Biret doesn’t exactly dig deep. Put her Brahms beside a great recorded performance like that of Emil Gilels on DG (also at budget price) and it’s soon clear what’s missing: fire, grandeur, tender intimacy – too often Biret sounds ponderous and deliberate in comparison. She seems more at home in the Schumann, but if that appeals there’s a more persuasive recording by Murray Perahia, coupled with an outstanding Schumann Piano Concerto, on Sony – definitely worth the extra expense. Stephen Johnson