This well recorded disc from 1987 delivers truly exciting performances of all three works in typically crisp manner by Zimerman. Ozawa and the Boston orchestra give excellent support. The emphasis here is on excitement largely created by fast speeds delivered with clarity. The more gentler parts of all three works are played with due regard to sensitivity but there is no denying that in these recordings these works are seen as primarily as virtuoso display works and that is what we are given.
Chopin's two piano concertos have long been admired more as pianistic vehicles than as integrated works for piano and orchestra. But in his revelatory new recording, Krystian Zimerman suggests otherwise: The opening orchestral tuttis have so much more light, shade, orchestral color, and detail, you wonder if they've been rewritten. Every gesture, every instrumental solo is so specifically characterized that by the time the piano makes a dramatic entrance, the pieces have become operas without words.
It was an eminently sensible decision to couple Zimerman's previously separate Chopin concertos on a single CD. The Ax/Ormandy/RCA disc is the only rival as a coupling, so let me say at once that in different moods I would be equally happy with either. The main difference, I think, is the actual sound. From DG we get a closer, riper sonority, with Zimerman's piano much more forwardly placed. Both orchestra and piano are more distanced on the RCA recording, especially Ax's piano. This, together with Ax's lighter, more translucent semiquaver figuration (and sometimes his greater willingness to stand back and merely accompany—as in certain episodes in the F minor Concerto's finale) often conjures up visions of Chopin himself at the keyboard, and we know he was often criticized for insufficiently strong projection.
"Both Zimerman and Bernstein are involved and involving here … a rapt intensity [in the slow movement]" (Gramophone on No.1). "Bernstein and Zimerman have established a masterly understanding of the work, and their artistic symbiosis is inpressive" (Gramophone on No.2).
Leonard Bernstein was slated to conduct the entire set of these piano concertos. At the time of his death, however, he had completed the third, fourth and fifth concertos only. In tribute to Bernstein, Krystian Zimerman and the Vienna Philharmonic recorded the remaining concertos without a conductor.
Krystian Zimerman - the youngest ever winner of the prestigious Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw at the age of eighteen – giving his Homage to Chopin and Schubert. As a brilliant musician, a renown specialist in Romantic music Krystian Zimerman combines all the prerequisites for an authorative interpretation of Chopin´s works.
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.