Classical CD Reviews

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; Eight Keyboard Pieces, Op. 76 – Nicholas Angelich, piano/Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Jarvi – Virgin Classics

American pianist Nicholas Angelich performs heroic and introspective Brahms with dash and panache.

Published on June 19, 2010

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; Eight Keyboard Pieces, Op. 76 – Nicholas Angelich, piano/Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Jarvi – Virgin Classics

BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; Eight Keyboard Pieces, Op. 76 – Nicholas Angelich, piano/Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Jarvi – Virgin Classics 266349 2, 74:37 [Distr. by EMI] ****:

Recorded at the Hessian Radio, Frankfurt, 6-9 April 2009, the collaboration of American pianist Nicholas Angelich (b. 1970) and Paavo Jarvi in the Brahms B-flat Concerto makes for exciting, even explosive, listening – the conception both heraldic and monumentally lyrical. Jarvi relishes the mass and grandeur of the first movement, Brahms having balanced the sonata-form with an introspective and declamatory sense of improvisation. Angelich projects a lushly opulent tone, courtesy of recording engineer Thomas Eschler. Pianist and orchestra compete aurally for supremacy, a kind of “symphony” for keyboard and orchestra or “piano obbligato,” as has often been noted. The leisurely approach to the development section casts an aristocratic poise over the long runs and shimmering modulations, all classically proportioned. Sweeping arpeggios and block chords over a pedal in the bass take us to the lulling recapitulation, Angelich’s trill a study in floating pearls. The coda quite thunders with North German authority.

The “wisp” of a Scherzo in D Minor gravitates between Liszt’s diabolism and the introspective gravitas of the late piano music. The syncopes and animated agogics in the bass line become torrential, only to burst forth in clarion bell-peals of emotional triumph. Consistently, the tone of the Frankfurt’s principal French horn absolutely compels our devotion. The da capo reasserts the primal power of the D Minor impulse, perhaps the composer’s way of insinuating his First Concerto into the bravura mix, given its disappointing reception in the annals of German music. The lovely Andante–with its own celestial cello–finds only alluring sympathy in the principals, Angelich convincing us, in broad gestures, that Brahms and Chopin could share the same nocturnal visions.  A strutting dignity pervades the Allegretto grazioso finale; and here, Angelich’s French pedagogy brightens the score, much as Gilels and Muti illuminated this sterling movement years ago in Philadelphia.

Filling out the disc are the 1879 solo keyboard works Brahms organized–four capriccios and four intermezzi–as his Op. 76. Angelich’s liquid playing of the opening stormy F-sharp Major Capriccio brings out its pre-Debussy harmony and emotional bereavement. The perennial, Capriccio in B Minor–a favorite of Artur Rubinstein and Miklos Schwalb for its etude demands in touch and wrist articulation–bounces in Schubertian grace and dervish-like appoggiaturas. The first intermezzo, that in A-flat Major, Grazioso, offers that rainy-day sensibility that haunts much of the autumnal Brahms soul. The B-flat Major extends the droplets and adds a haunted tremor to the interior musings. The C-sharp Minor Capriccio shifts rhythmic accents much in the manner of a Chopin mazurka, and equally explosive emotionally. The thick writing takes on a Beethoven energy and dark matter before its anguish resolutely breaks off. Its companion piece, the Intermezzo in A Major, exploits rhythmic ambiguity as well, but its agonies remain relatively subdued. The “existential” A Minor Intermezzo first caught my attention on an old 78rpm shellac inscribed by Artur Rubinstein. Angelich realizes its drooping sensibilities in the same tone that we read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, that tells us that in him we see the fading of one’s powers, “when yellow leaves or none, or few do hang.” The last spasms of desire flourish in the final C Major Capriccio, a plea not to yield to the dying of the light.

–Gary Lemco




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