Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.83
Nelson Freire (piano)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Recorded in the Gewandhaus, Leipzig between 22-26 November 2005 (Concerto No.2) and 13-18 February 2006
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2006
CD No: DECCA 475 7637 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 35 minutes
Recorded live from several concerts devoted to both of Brahms’s piano concertos, the stormy opening to the D minor work opens in the most positive way – really grabbing the listener’s attention and displaying superb orchestral address and balance, vividly recorded. Riccardo Chailly maintains momentum and tension through the long exposition. On his first entry, Nelson Freire establishes his brief: a technical mastery put at the service of the music and integration with the orchestra that is maybe too self-effacing. Yet as the symphonic progress of both works is revealed, the long-term thought, and agreement, of pianist and conductor, and including the culture and vibrancy of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, becomes more and more compelling.
The D minor concerto seems less tragic here, the first movement invigorated with a young man’s hopes and confidence (Brahms was, after all, in his twenties). His searching side, too, is revealed given that the introspective aspects are not found wanting, and the sublime Adagio is very moving for all that the music isn’t indulged; it is deeply felt, though. The finale, like the first movement, is seen whole – united, appreciated but not wallowed for its moods, and, ultimately, triumphant.
The B flat concerto was recorded first, and begins with a relaxed and shapely horn solo, the pianist’s opening cadenza a model of poise and fullness of tone. As in the D minor work, the wholeness of conception and the musicians’ teamwork is a joy, and the orchestra’s generosity of phrase and rich (but not cloying) timbres offer much that is felicitous. In terms of balance, the orchestra seems slightly further back and more ambient than in the D minor work (some fortissimos are a little strident); and, conversely, Freire is a bit more forward, but not dominating. Indeed, it could be argued that in Concerto No.1 Freire is too much ‘first among equals’, although the ‘symphony’ aspect of this work could be said to be made especially apparent.
From the team of Freire, Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the first movement of Concerto No.2 is spacious and ruminative but with a sense of direction; the scherzo is a lava flow of drive, and the cello-led slow movement is lyrically charged. Here, with antiphonal violins, the cellist (unnamed, just as timings for the movements are not printed) is to the pianist’s side – surely what Brahms intended. The finale has a certain playfulness and lightness of touch – it could be more so – and some episodes are delightfully pointed, and this movement is a relaxed foil to earlier largesse.
These are very fine and very satisfying performances that have much to offer – for now and the future.