Brahms, Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Schumann
LABELS: Dorian
WORKS: Piano Concerto in A minor
PERFORMER: Ivan Moravec (piano); Dallas SO/Eduardo Mata
CATALOGUE NO: DOR-90172
Schumann’s Piano Concerto is a miracle of subtle exchange, avoiding extremes but bubbling with lyrical delight. This is a live recording in which the orchestra has been pushed into the background, so that the all-important woodwind solos in the first movement can hardly be heard, while the piano’s accompanimental passages have been given undue importance. Moravec makes a nice sound, but there’s not much lyrical delight. He’s a stodgy player, all too circumspect, and pulls Schumann’s fully composed cadenza around to no purpose. Fanny Davies, one of Clara Schumann’s most distinguished pupils, showed how it should be done in her historic recording with Ernest Ansermet conducting in 1928. She also insisted on something approaching Schumann’s metronome marking in the middle movement, which is nearly always taken too slowly (honourable exceptions have also been Moura Lympany, Alfred Brendel and Andreas Staier). Here, the long-drawn cello tune following the tripping exchanges of piano and orchestra almost grinds to a halt. As for the finale, it flits by joylessly and ends with an unmarked, applause-winning acceleration.

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The Brahms Concerto fares no better. Mata sets a fairly fast tempo in the first movement, and Moravec sounds uncomfortable with it when he enters. There’s no backbone to the performance as a whole, and the tempo of the middle movement fluctuates constantly. Moravec’s left hand is stronger than his right, and in the finale he gives it too little weight and ends phrases so staccato that they sound inappropriately frisky. The classic recording, stern and muscular, is by Serkin with Szell, though in more up-to-date sound, Hélène Grimaud is magnificent. Adrian Jack