on 24 October 2003
The ultimate test is how well does the pianist perform in the first few bars of the second piano concerto?. The degree of sensitivity here is beyond description.
These performances are not only exemplary, but monumental in both concertos. These are recordings to die for. Gilels is the best of the very best. The recording quality too is exemplary. Warm and extremely realistic piano tone, vibrant brass, and a spacious sound.
No true Brahms lover should ever live without these magnificent recordings. These discs are really special.
There are three great works here- the op 116 Fantasies and Piano Concertos op 15 and op 83. When Gilels played the Fantasies in 1975 in Turku in Finland, he was roughly the same age as that at which Brahms had composed them. He had a lifetime of experience of playing piano at the highest level. He intently produces the musings that Brahms had made using these delicate materials. The piano is not used to dominate, instead the tenderness, delicacy and intimacy of these reflections is brought to the fore. The rhythms and cross rhythms are beautifully reproduced and the structure is notably clear. I just love these three capriccios and 4 intermezzos.
Then, there are these truly great performances of the first and second piano concertos. There is pure power and deep seriousness in the first concerto with immense punch in the trills. The instrumental solos in the second concerto are well-defined and help to create the warmth of Brahms music. When Eugen Jochum was asked about his finest recordings he specially mentioned these Brahms Concertos with Gilels as piano soloist. Buy them.
on 3 December 2004
Playing Brahms is so different to any other concertos. The soloist needs to reflect upon the grandeur of Beethoven 'Emperor', simplicity of Schumann, passion of Grieg Piano concerto, and at times, the ability to simply go 'over-the-top' like in Tchaikovsky. The music is working at many different levels, and good soloists know this.
This recording is so special because it balances these different aspects so perfectly. Brahms himself would have been happy about the sensitivity with which Gilels treats the first few bars of the 1st movement of the Second Concerto. However, at the same time, Gilels is aggressive when he needs to (if you have this recording, I suggest you listen to the section starting at 7:05 of the first movement of Brahms 2). The balance of quiet first section and the strong, emotionally-charging block chord section is absolutely perfect.
Good soloist also needs a good orchestra, and here, Berlin Philharmoniker certainly delivers. I am particularly impressed with the horn section, which conveys the distinctive German Romantic atmosphere beautifully.
on 21 October 2014
This was the recording that introduced me to Brahms' piano concertos. Gilels' playing is never less than magisterial but frequently hits the sublime. The double octaves of the first concerto take your breathe away. The slow movement of the 2nd is a masterclass in rapt playing. Jochum draws out the very best of the BPO. I can never let the Curzon / Szell 1st go but these two recordings are something very special.
on 22 February 2006
There can be no doubt that Gilels is brilliant here, in the First, in the Second, and in the Fantasies.
For those who are particular fans of the Second, may I also recommend having a look at Gilels' earlier, more energetic recording of the Second, with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony. There are some for whom this may be the preferable disc, though my advice would be to get both.
Also, do please have a listen to Solomon, who has made some of the greatest recordings of Brahms piano concertos, both of which are easily available on Testament, and include some other beautiful Brahms piano works. Of particular note, I think, are the Handel Variations.
(Note that, like Gilels, Solomon is also exceptional when it comes to playing Beethoven.)
on 4 November 2011
Reviewers have accused Gilels and Jochum of being ponderous on this disc. That's understandable, to a degree, given the strong emphasis the performers give to the richness and dark soul present in Brahms' concerti. However, I'm quite reluctant to equate this with being "ponderous". Richness and depth don't imply heaviness, and to my ears, our performers never burden us. It's certain that both Gilels and Jochum incorporate a wistful singing quality; there's always a beautiful lyricism, pleasing in a way quite unlike anything I've heard before. Call it ponderous if you want to, but I'm optimistic.
Let's begin by taking a look at the 1st Piano Concerto. Much of the thematic material was intended to be used as a symphony. One could guess as much, given the towering sense of symphonic structure, especially in the lengthy first movement. It's a dark work, one that delivers the fate that we often associate with the key of D minor. It presents serious challenges to its interpreters, asking for the structural aspects of the work to be felt, but, at the same time, this work has got to be more than menace. I think Gilels and Jochum succeed in their efforts. The Berliners play with their Brahmsian richness and depth of tone (this orchestra is unrivaled in Brahms, after all) and Jochum creates a strong orchestral tone for Gilels while not sounding harsh. Gilels' phrasing is genuinely beautiful, letting light come through the clouds. When I'm done listening to this performance, I still think that this is Brahms at his darkest, but there's no way I can consider it cold, at least not in the face of such interpreters as we have here.
Let's be honest: we all like the sunny 2nd more than the fateful 1st. Where else does Brahms rise to such levels of catchy lyricism while being so majestic? It's a glorious concerto, obviously one of the greatest ever. And this is how Gilels and Jochum take it. Their approach is full of grandeur, to be sure, but also refinement. Our performers don't play the piece with their hearts on their sleeves, something I know some listeners may desire. But again, I'm sympathetic, not that everyone needs to be, but I love this approach. It's one that will make you aware of just how songful Brahms is. It could be argued that Brahms should be more monolithic, but I'll say that he can handle the vision of Gilels and Jochum--great composers leave room for endless differences in interpretative vision. I have to think of the many times my piano teacher has told me to "sing" on the piano; it sounds easy to do, but it takes tremendous skill. I know I'm making a big claim, but I've never heard a pianist "sing" so naturally and effectively as Gilels does here. While everything is wonderful, it is the 3rd movement that I find the most promising. It is full of a twilight beauty that leaves me wanting nothing. In short, opinions will vary, but I've welcomed this songful Brahms' 2nd into my collection with delight.
The Op. 116 pieces are short compared to the concerti, but they are given wonderful performances, with Gilels showing the same lyrical gifts that were manifested in the concerti. These are beautiful pieces, written when Brahms was in his late, reflective mood. They are wonderful pieces, with few equals in terms of resigned beauty in the entire piano literature. Hearing Gilels play them has increased my respect for the set, one I'm trying to tackle myself right now. Obviously I'm not rivaling Gilels!)
In closing, if you want Brahms that sings, you've found it. I certainly find this set very desirable, with sound that's not bad for early 70's analog.
These historically significant concerto recordings were made in 1972 and the Opus 116 pieces followed in 1975. The recordings are well matched and all sound well, particularly considering their vintage. In terms of vintage, these performances have gained in stature relative to other recordings as time has passed. This is simply because in the course of time many of the newer recordings which might have superseded these have been found wanting in a variety of ways.
On the subject of recording, this 'original bit mastering' has a slightly improved sound quality when compared to the previous CD issue. In general terms there is improved 'presence' and 'bite' while at the same time there is an increase of warmth to the overall sound. Only by careful comparison using wide ranging replay equipment was this really apparent. it is possible that these somewhat subtle differences may not be significant on other equipment. As an upgrade move from a previous issue, it seems that money might be better spent elsewhere.
As readings of these concertos and solo works, and at the same time as considering Gilel's playing in an historical context, it is also important to recognise the invaluable support he received from his musical colleagues, both Jochum and the BPO, individually and corporately. The overall body of sound and its balance has been well caught be the engineers as described above and in the context of my own replay equipment.
The performances themselves are magisterial in general conception and are conceived on a large, even epic scale. This is certainly true of the more dramatic first concerto but is also a fair comment as regards the second. There are other fine ways of viewing these concertos of course which is why no one version of core repertoire such as this can realistically be described as definitive. Gilels, for example, does not start to match the sheer drive of a Richter in the second concerto or the graceful elegance of a Backhaus in the same concerto. Curzon with Szell cannot be ignored in the first concerto and Fleisher, also with Szell, delivers memorable recordings of both concertos. In terms of modern versions, those by Friere and Chailly are much praised but my personal preference is for the warmth and humanity of Angelich.
As the above paragraph attempts to show, there is a wealth of superb versions available on disc, all sounding well, which have equal claim to be considered as top choices in their different ways without any needing to be quoted as the definitive best.
In that context of a wealth of fine recordings now available for the collector, this set by Gilels is the equal of any of the others. I have every sympathy with those who find it pre-eminent. The fine set of opus 116 pieces makes a very welcome bonus. They are also delivered at an equally exalted level.
It therefore seems only reasonable to suggest to potential purchasers that this disc by Gilels deserves to be considered only amongst the very best. Keen collectors will want several versions of these core works, possibly including all of those listed above at least. That is really the best answer and the most enriching.
on 15 January 2002
Brahms' first Piano Concerto is a sublime piece of music - classic Brahms: complex, passionate, surprising and very rewarding. It contains one of the greatest "moments" in classical music for me - the entry of the piano in the first movement. This is one of the very best recordings ever made too, the Russian pianist Emil Gilels together with Jochum, who's right at home with this kind of grand scale music. Add it to your collection now!
on 23 November 2008
These are heaven-made performances of Brahms concerti & solo piano music. What makes Gilels/Jochum version stand out from the rest is the way they treat the concertos basically as a grand symphonic work, at the same time allowing the piano to express its part to the fullest possible richness. Gilels' playing is never self-serving, yet deeply engaging and eloquent. Jochum creates extra Brucknerian grandeur and profound sense of drama with BPO, which is utterly awe-inspiring!
Generously coupled with exquisite accounts of Intermezzi & Capriccios. Highly recommendable alongside another outstanding recording of the same concertos by Fleisher (Brahms - Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Handel Variations; Waltzes).
on 1 October 2013
Before listening to this rendition, I was accostumed to the old but unforgettable versions of Backhaus with Bohm (#1) and Schuricht (#2).
These discs have opened to me a new perspective of these masterpieces.
Both concertos with Backhaus were quicker and lighter, but more intimate, yearning; music was more whispered, even in the most turbulent passages. Jochum is far different from both Both and Schuricht: a more powerful and majestic pace, larger and deeper (also assisted by the stereo sound), upon which Gilels can weave a more dinamic style, stronger, maybe more imaginative; otherwise Backhaus has a dreaming mark that suffuses sweetness and regret in the whole music.
Which feeling is better? I do not know; now that I have listened to both, I am happy to have discovered a new face of a couple of masterpieces, because, most of all, the winner is Brahms and his everlasting music. I will try another interpretation (Freire? Barenboim?) just to taste another face of these concertos, but I am sure that Gilels' will stay on the podium even after having listened to other versions.