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.
Maurizio Pollini's 2011 concert recording of Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor is an important document because it not only captures his return to playing with the esteemed Staatskapelle Dresden (his first performance with the group since 1986), and his first collaboration with conductor Christian Thielemann, but it presents the very work the pianist played at his Staatskapelle debut in 1976. All of this background is helpful to know, to understand the significance Deutsche Grammophon attaches to this release, even at the risk of offering a CD that runs just over 45 minutes, without any filler for added value.
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
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