Friday, May 21, 2010

Brahms: Piano Concerto No 2; Klavierstücke Op 76, CD review

By Geoffrey Norris
Published: 3:48PM BST 21 May 2010

Virgin Classics 266349 2, £13.99

The young American pianist Nicholas Angelich was born to play Brahms, and he has been wise to capitalise on the fact. All his Virgin Classics discs so far have been of Brahms’s music, be it works for solo piano or the chamber repertoire in which has collaborated superbly with the string-playing brothers Renaud and Gautier Capuçon. Angelich now follows up his exceptional recording of Brahms’s First Concerto (518998 2) with this commanding one of the Second.

Angelich has the titanic technique that has to be the first port of call in tackling music of this magnitude and power. The tone he produces here has weight, depth and richness throughout the range, with an especially compelling resonance in the lower registers. Whatever instrument he selected for this performance, it suits and complements his manner of playing ideally. Equally, the Frankfurt orchestra under Paavo Järvi has full measure of the music’s seriousness of utterance. The balance is good, the playing strong and firmly grounded rhythmically though at the same time alert to lyrical finesse. The strings possess warmth as well as sinew, the prominent solos for horn and cello emerging naturally from the texture, and the whole orchestra establishing a cohesive, animated ensemble.

Angelich does not make things sound easy, and it would be wrong if he did. There is a thrilling element of struggle and of energy being expended here, while he also has the poetic impulse to grace the slow movement with exquisite phrasing and contemplative mellowness. These qualities are no less evident and rewarding in the solo Klavierstücke Op 76, the more outgoing capriccios set in sharp contrast to the more inward intermezzos, but with all eight forming a unified span.

This is a magnificent disc, and deserves pride of place in any Brahms-lover’s library.

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