André Watts joined Leonard Bernstein in this recording of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in 42 years ago 1968 at a point in time when the young Watts at age 22 was approaching the height of his popularity with American Orchestras. After hearing the now older André Watts in performance with Bramwell Tovey and the LA Philharmonic giving his current interpretation of this fiendishly difficult and very long concerto it is fascinating to return to this fine recording now, thankfully, held in the library as the popular Royal Edition. This recording finds Watts more eloquent and more in touch with the dreamlike qualities that Brahms so eloquently placed in the concerto as contrasts to the demanding pyrotechnics that mark the majority of the work. Bernstein provides a similar approach to the piece as Watts and the result is a smooth, if not always convincingly involved performance. At the present André Watts is more a firebrand than this earlier performance would indicate. He now storms through the rapid passages like a locomotive at full steam, filling the hall with thunderous sound - if with some inexact playing. Yet when he reaches the third movement 'duet' with the cello he is as soulful as the performance on this recording, and he even seems to be more sensitive to the partnership with the cellist instead of trumping the limelight. So if listeners are able to hear a contemporary performance of this great piano concerto at the hands of André Watts they will hear the best of both versions!
Bernstein gives a taught and thoughtful reading of the 'Variations on a Theme of Haydn' that fills out this CD, and this performance continues to be one to treasure even when compared to the many fine recordings by other 'more Brahmsian' conductors. This recording is a fine one to won, especially at the very reduced price that accompanies all of the Royal Edition recordings placed back on the shelves by Sony Records. Grady Harp, January 10