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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SUPERB BRAHMS BY A SUPERB PIANIST,
This review is from: Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations (Audio CD)I am no musicologist and therefore this review must be read in that light. I am biased because these Brahms concertos are amongst my favourites. The scope and breadth of these works is exhilerating. Ashkenazy has a delightfully light touch and a fine sense of mood and tone. Altogether masterful performances of these works. A constant joy and a CD to be played over and over.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Brahms,
This review is from: Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations (Audio CD)I have never written a review about anything before, so here goes!
These discs are an absolute bargain! Here are two great piano concertos, with generous fillers, performed by one of my favourite pianists and the marvellous Concertegebow Orchestra under Haitink. Of course there is no one interpretation which is 'correct' and will suit everybody, but I think that Ashkenazy has the measure of both these concertos, combining strength and poetry allowing the romantic grandeur and sweep to emerge. I did have a musicassette of the D minor when it was first released in the early eighties so I was more than happy to replace it with the CD.
I also have the classic Gilels/Jochum versions which speak for themselves, but I prefer (only just) the Decca mainly because the recording is much warmer and richer sounding. Just listen to the glorious opening horn solo in the Bflat concerto. Both Haitink and Ashkenazy are 'in tune' with one another making for deeply satisfying interpretations of both these technically demanding concertos.
There is surprisingly little to choose interpretation-wise. Gilels is a little more expansive, especially in the first movement of the D minor where the presentation of the piano's main theme is more studied (none the worse for that). One disappointment of the DG recording occurs when the piano makes its appearance in the d minor after the orchestral ritornello, where the piano sounds too distant -almost reluctant to make an entry.
I have listened too many versions of the D minor (my favourite by a whisker). Curzon, Brendel and John Lill to name a few, all of which were excellent performances. I did hear a truly awful performance given by Radu Lupu, of all people, at a proms performance some years ago - sadly he seemed to be way past his prime.
To sum up - We can all listen and make our own observations about a particular recording and interpretation, but I have no hesitation about recommending these discs. I don't think anyone would be really disappointed, particularly at this price!!
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous Brahms!,
This review is from: Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations (Audio CD)How do you like Brahms to sound?
For me, it must be played with full, rich, warm tones - after all, it is weighty, expressive and truly romantic music - and the many passages of extreme delicacy and utter beauty must be brought out too.
So what about this recording? I would say that this recording amply fulfils all those requirements. Dealing first with my absolute favourite of all piano concertos, Brahms' second, this recording (for me personally) outstrips all others that I have heard (YES, even the widely acclaimed Gilels/Jochum/BPO on DG: Brahms: The Piano Concertos; Fantasias Op.116).
There is such beautiful sound - the opening solo horn, the solo cello in the 3rd movement, not to mention Ashkenazy's tone on the piano. Ashkenazy exacts so much power from his keyboard without whacking the thing to death or giving us a horrible, harsh tone - for me, Gilels does not do so well in this respect, when comparing the two readings. Ashkenazy has a beautifully warm and weighty sound; every note resonates as it should. The piano holds its place with fine, firm tone against the orchestra in the louder, more energetic passages, yet also sounds with such sensitivity and delicacy in the 3rd movement, and the "quiet after the storm" in the second movement. (Sample the from 5'40'' to 6'10'' in the second movement to see what I mean - what a beautiful melodic line in the right hand set against the arpeggios in the left!).
I also love the execution of the opening of the piece - that lovely resonant sound of the bass notes, almost at the very extreme of the keyboard, which answer the horn. Then there are the dense, virtuosic passages, in which Ashkenazy characteristically delivers clarity and excellent voicing. What energy and excitement too! And then there are the trills - astonishing! This is the kind of playing and tone quality Brahms piano writing should receive, especially in the second concerto, of all pieces.
So what of the orchestra's playing? The Wiener Philharmoniker, as you would expect, play superbly - what beautiful string and brass sections! Haitink's interpretation is marvellous. Decca have given us an excellent digital recording in capturing this marvellous account.
I do have a few very minor niggles about this recording. Firstly, the staccato notes in the right hand of the piano, just after the first entry of the woodwinds and strings in the first movement, don't really happen, but it sounds good nonetheless. (Incidentally, Gilels does a little better here, but there's not much in it). Secondly, had the first and second violins been separated, then those dialogue runs of descending scales in the first movement would have been yet more effective.
The playing of the first concerto here is perhaps not quite as good, but I feel no need to buy another, as it is not by any means bad. It is very powerful in places, and the last movement suites Ashkenazy's style of playing. The interpretation seems more restrained, like Ashkenazy is holding back a little. Some prefer the first as a work itself, but I feel it is (despite being a grand work) marginally eclipsed by the second concerto.
The fillers here are good - Ashkenazy conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in the "Haydn" and "Handel" variations. The Handel variations were orchestrated by Edmund Rubbra from Brahms solo piano variations in the style of Brahms' orchestration of the Haydn variations - an interesting listen. Both are well played, although the Haydn is a little quicker than usual, but I quite like the tempi chosen.
So why do I prefer this interpretation of the 2nd to the Gilels/Jochum? I mentioned the sound on the piano first of all, which is very important. I also feel the playing of the whole piece is better with Ashkenazy and Haitink, the other seems rough in some places. The finale in particular is far superior in Ashkenazy's hands - it is Hungarian-sounding, as it should be (like his recording of some of the Hungarian dances with Perlman on EMI: Brahms - Violin Concerto; 4 Hungarian Dances - also a strong recommendation). I found Gilels not very convincing in this movement. For me, Ashkenazy and Haitink manage to serve a fuller palate of passion, power, beauty and relaxing serenity throughout the whole piece, which is the quality in Brahms' music that is so appealing to me. Let your tastes be your guide...
All in all, this is one of my favourite disks - one that I will never tire of, and will return to time and time again. I would recommend this recording above any other to anyone looking for an exceptional performance of the Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto. For quality of playing, beautiful sound and good price - I feel this is unbeatable!
[Decca's website has 1'30'' samples, if you want to hear previews]
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sublime 2nd Piano Concerto,
This review is from: Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations (Audio CD)With many versions available, Ashkenazy more than holds his own. The First Piano Concerto is, to be honest, neither better nor worse than other versions but the second is sublime. The Adagio, drawing you in with the serene 'Cello and then Ashkenazy is Rhapsodic, Lyrical and Profound, in equal measure.
If you haven't heard these works before, this is a great introduction to the genius of Brahms' Piano Concertos, and if you have, you won't be disappointed.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Performances and Recordings,
This review is from: Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations (Audio CD)I was delighted to pick up such good recordings, made between 1982 & 1994 (according to the label) at such a good price. The sound quality is excellent and, of course, Ashkenazy plays with total authority. He never rushes his performances: indeed he takes the first movement of PC2 a little slower than I'm used to. I'm very pleased with them. A couple of extras are included, one of them being the Handel variations, very unusually in an orchestration rather than for piano. Not impressed with that - but unimportant!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balance - can no-one else do it?,
This review is from: Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations (Audio CD)There's a fine balance between using the pedal and not knowing why a piano has one - Ashkenazy has that balance - he lets the music flow without blur - blends when he needs to - stops the sound when it's right. Cantabile? - you only get that from a person who knows what the melody and parts are - and where they are or when as Einstein would say.Seems that small hands are no problem either to this man. There are piano players and pianists - and then there's the few up in the clouds - Ashkenazy's up there somewhere.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brahms piano masterpieces,
This review is from: Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations (Audio CD)I bought these interpretations back in the Summer when the Proms concerts with Bernard Haitink and the ECO were looming. They are a joy that illuminated the live performances that featured Emmanuel Ax. Ashkenazy is a treasure that we often underestimate in Britain and of course the music is steeped with Haitink's sublime understanding of the scores.
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Brahms: The Piano Concertos 1, 2: Haydn and Handel Variations by Vladimir Ashkenazy (Audio CD - 2002)
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