on 6 February 2012
It has long been received wisdom that the Gilels/Jochum DG recording of Brahms Piano Concertos is unsurpassed in the catalogue. But i want to challenge that wisdom. So in love with these two extraordinarily different concertos am i that over the years i have purchased almost all the recommended versions and some less recommended ones too!
I think what it comes down too is how romantic your sensibilities are. It seems most critics are in favour of these pieces being treated "Classically" in favour of "Romatically" but if, like me, you prefer every last drop of romantic juice squeezed out of the scores then the more formal approach of say a Gilels or a Pollini or a Kovacevich (i.e the great Beethovians) will probably leave you feeling just a touch wanting. It's not that they are not superb, it's just that they are perhaps a tiny bit too "tasteful"!
Here we have a young Barenboim (also of course a great Beethovian) with fire in his belly accompanied by a mature Barbirolli who was a great Brahmsian and a red-blooded romantic to the end. The result is truly epic and grandiose with energy and breadth in equal measure. The first movement of the 1st concerto is dark and thunderous. Only Barenboim (and to some extent Ashkenazy with Haitink) seems to know how to squeeze our hearts with the achingly passionate series of suspensions and resolutions at about 3 mins into the Adagio. The finale is so exciting i can't imagine how anyone could prefer Gilels...but that's me! At 1'30secs into the finale listen to the way Barenboim maintains the sweep and forward momentum while also embracing the romance of the melodic phrase...normally you get one or the other but not both!
The second concerto is equally compelling with a broad opening tempo setting a languid, even cool, relaxed mood with the horn call before Barenboim turns up the heat. The sound is excellent for it's age but is not modern audiophile quality. (If you must have a double concerto set with more modern sound then i would recommend the Ashkenazy/Haitink for the romantic warmth of Ashkenazy's approach with his Rachmaninov pedigree producing all the chocolate richness required by Brahms' piano music).
So, if you are refined, cultivated and controlled by nature then stick with your Gilels...but if your temperament leans to the more heated and you prefer things a little more unbuttoned and sensual, try these majestic, life-affirming accounts!
on 3 June 2011
This recording was a total revelation! Finally the first piano oncerto is making sense to me!
But every single work and movement on these two CDs are superb.
Barbirolli is not very much present in my recording collection, but I will give him much more attention after this. He is leading with accuracy, precision, consequence, clarity and intense beauty of sound. he makes the music fit together, even the complex and complicated first piano concerto.
And Barenboim..... To me this is one of his best recording ever. he knows how to place every single note in connection to the overall logic.
on 22 November 2015
I bought the original vinyl of the Haydn Variations/Overtures and fell madly in love with it. I even used the opening chorale as our wedding march. I've heard subsequent versions, but nothing has succeeded in supplanting my affection for this one. To me, there is something magical about this recording, so I simply had to have this CD. I'm not so familiar with the Brahms Concertos, but I also found them enjoyable. So, for unshamedly personal reasons, highly recommended.
on 27 April 2013
This (the 2nd concerto) has everything: exquisite calm and tranquillity, subtle delicacy, melodic accessibility, towering virtuosity, intellectual maturity, power and grandiloquence, narrative coherence and it's hewn from a cultural bedrock of unimpeachable pedigree. Barbirolli & Barenboim are perfectly matched in this spectacular reading of my favourite piece of orchestral music. Look forward to comparing it with the Ashkenazy/Haitink combo as suggested by another reviewer here.
on 9 December 2013
This is a 1960s recording of Barenboim (piano) and the Halle Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli (conductor) playing the two Brahms piano concertos and some bonus items (Haydn Variations, a couple of overtures).
In a nutshell, it's a quite variable and mixed affair. The performance of the first piano concerto is generally excellent; in particular it is probably the best recording of the slow movement available anywhere. Barenboim and Barbirolli really understand the work and communicate that to great effect. The outer movements are also fairly convincing, though a little more power in the first movement would have been beneficial.
The performance of the second piano concerto, however, much more questionable. Although it still contains some impressive moments, these are punctuated by long periods in which both orchestra and soloist visibly struggle to keep things together. At times, such as the end of the second movement, it sounds almost shambolic.
I'm giving it four stars because the performance of the first concerto alone is well worth the price. The performance of the Haydn Variations is also quite good and worth having. Treat the other items (second piano concerto and overtures) as bonus curiosities rather than your main recording of those works (try Geza Anda or Krystian Zimerman for the second piano concerto instead), and you won't regret it.