Two generous, aristocratic musicians, both of Latin origin, join forces for these magnificent performances of Brahms’ piano concertos. Claudio Arrau spent a substantial period in Berlin, and through his teacher Martin Krause had a line to Franz Liszt, while Carlo Maria Giulini’s relationship with Austro-German music was deepened by his years as a viola player in Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, performing under such conductors as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter.
This Zimerman recording of the Brahms Piano Concerto no. 1 may have received some critical lambasting when it was originally released. However, despite this, I find that this recording is unjustly underrated because in its own special way it plumbs the depths of Brahms' heart and soul. Zimerman, although he recorded this in his late-twenties, interprets the solo part with insight, and does not go over-the-top with pianistic pyrotechnics, as most other pianists tend to do. Bernstein leads the Viennese musicians in a sympathetic accompaniment that serves as a perfect foil to Zimerman's parts and allows him to integrate into the orchestral texture. And the DG recording, although not entirely clear, is characterised by the atmosphere and bloom of the Vienna Musikverein, despite the extreme forward balance of the piano.
I can't think of any professional performer who wouldn't be glad to claim Graffman's tremendously solid, albeit simpler pianism. Indeed, Graffman's sense of forward sweep and sustaining power within long, introspective passages score over what Van Cliburn halfheartedly delivered in his own recording with the Boston Symphony a few years later…Reissued through Arkivmusic.com's "on demand" program, this disc is well worth hearing. -Jed Distler; classicstoday.com
The terms "classic" and "definitive", so overused that they are in danger of losing their meaning, absolutely apply to these recordings. The Fleisher/Szell Brahms Piano Concertos, recorded in 1958 and 1962, had not been available since their 1980s incarnation as Odyssey LPs. Now, in amazingly solid, vibrant remastered sound Sony has resurrected these mighty performances, which along with Fleisher's Beethoven concerto recordings, are vital documents of this pianist's early prowess - stunning technique, penetrating musicianship, and well-channeled passion. Szell's fiery, tempestuous reading of the Piano Concerto No. 1's orchestral score (with a riled up Cleveland Orchestra) has never been surpassed, let alone equaled, not even by Szell himself in his subsequent recordings. Fleisher and Szell present the Second Concerto in a grandly classical manner, relating it to Beethoven's Emperor and avoiding the massiveness and bulk of some more recent interpretations. Here the pianist tellingly combines wit and intelligence with a powerful sense of urgency. The same goes for the appended Waltzes and Handel Variations from 1956, which Fleisher plays with such brilliance that we can't wait for the next passage. Sony has jettisoned the original cardboard packaging for the more sturdy jewel box, hence this new review. Whether paper or plastic, get these great performances while you still can
- Victor Carr; Classicstoday.com
Following his recent dazzling Liszt recital (CDA67085), Stephen Hough turns his attention to the finest works of the young Brahms. Brahms's three piano sonatas are early works, culminating with the epic F minor Sonata. Spanning five movements, with dramatic and wildly virtuosic outer movements, and a hauntingly beautiful slow movement (described by Claudio Arrau as "the greatest love music after Tristan, and the most erotic"), this is one of the defining piano sonatas of the mid-nineteenth century.
…In essence, this is glorified stereo with remarkable presence – one feels quite close to Rubinstein, & the CSO seems only feet away – but there is no additional surround sound depth. For the sake of authenticity, this is just as well, & Rubinstein & Reiner at least are not misrepresented through creative engineering. One may regret, however, that this SACD has no bonus tracks & find that it offers less value than other titles in the line.
Let me say straight away that the performance is extremely fine; indeed, such is its eloquence that I put aside the score and notepad and just listened for pleasure the first time round. – On Concerto No. 1 – Gramophone
This new version of Piano Concerto no. 2 from Stephen Kovacevich and the LSO under Sir Cohn Davis must be numbered among the very finest of recent years… The performance combines poetic feeling and intellectual strength in no small measure, and it is one to which I am sure I will want to returnGramophone
These extraordinary performances were recorded live at the Herodes Atticus Odeon in Athens in 2004 and offer the first musical encounter between Daniel Barenboim and Simon Rattle. One-time rivals for the post of principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, they here unite, happy to pay tribute to each other in a performance of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto of an epic grandeur and raw emotional intensity. Barenboim, pianist, conductor and political activist, has clearly reached the pinnacle of a dazzling career (a prophecy of his recent London performances of the complete Beethoven sonatas and concertos) that has ranged from prodigy to the fullest maturity. Caught on this form, few musicians can approach him in stature. Rattle launches the opening tutti with an explosive force, and after an oddly stiff and self-conscious entry (music that Tovey claimed as equal to anything in Bach’s St Matthew Passion) he quickly declares his true status, playing with a dark eloquence and with a breadth and range of inflection that allows him to savour every detail. Rarely can the first movement’s coda have emerged with such frenzied emotion, and here in particularly both Barenboim and Rattle combine to sound like King Lear raging against the universe (“Blow winds and crack your cheeks…”). The second movement, Brahms’s response to Schumann’s attempted suicide, is weighted with an almost unbearable significance and intensity, and in the finale Wolf’s strange dictum, “Brahms cannot exult”, is turned topsy-turvy.