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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Brahms: Piano Concertos
Format: Audio CD|Change
Price:£15.58+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

on 6 March 2017
Helene Grimaud and Brahms; what more could you want and an SHM-CD double at a giveaway price. What's not to like.
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on 20 September 2017
i love it
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on 27 December 2013
I had the good fortune to see Helene Grimaud live at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh earlier this year playing Beethoven's "Emperor" Piano Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. It was such an amazing performance that I was very interested to see what recordings she had done before or was about to do. When I looked on Amazon I found that she was in the process of recording both of Brahms' Piano Concertos in 2013 for DG and I knew I had to get them. I already had an old recording of them but thought it time to update them to a modern version, and who better then Helene Grimaud?

She recorded Piano Concerto No.1 in Munich with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons. Grimaud contributes a strong tone throughout the Concerto with good orchestral support. In the Rondo in the final movement she is in sparkling form with the Orchestra leading to a exciting climax.

The Brahms Piano Concerto No.2 was recorded by Grimaud and Nelsons in Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic and this is my favourite of the two Piano Concertos. I particularly like the second movement, which Grimaud captures perfectly with glowing sensitive playing backed by the VP and its beautiful strings. In fact of the two orchestras on these Brahms recordings I would say the Vienna Philharmonic supplies a richer, stronger backing compared to the German orchestra. But it is, of course, Miss Grimaud who shines through in both concertos and also gives a very interesting and revealing interview about Brahms in the CD booklet.
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This is Helene Grimaud's second recording of the Brahms First Concerto, her first having being made for Erato with Kurt Sanderling conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle. Like this one, that was a live recording, and a thoughtful one too. I found her habit of playing the left hand before the right in the Sanderling version somewhat irritating, though it was not excessively intrusive, and that recording was certainly a significant artistic statement from a pianist who has made some fine records (her recording of Beethoven's Op. 101 sonata on DG is one of the most remarkable versions I have heard, though the account of the Fifth Concerto with which it is coupled seems to me nothing special and could have benefited from more attention by the pianist to Beethoven's precise rhythmic notation).

Unfortunately, this left-hand-before-right mannerism has now become a knee-jerk reaction for Grimaud every time she approaches an expressive moment that she wants to emphasise, and her constant reliance on the same device can be maddeningly irritating for listeners if, like me, they prefer piano music played with the hands in alignment. For me, the incessant use of this mannerism is an irritant comparable to listening to someone talking who is so incapable of disciplining their speech that they insert unnecessary words ("well, I was, like, sort of listening to this CD, you know, and I found it, like, kind of difficult to listen to, you know what I mean?")

Admittedly, splitting the hands was an accepted expressive device in the nineteenth century, though it was already being criticised as a bad habit by early in the twentieth century. However, in the nineteenth century the device was being used within the context of a wide range of other expressive pianistic devices, and unless a modern pianist intends to play in a historically-informed manner that seeks to restore all the other pianistic characteristics of that era too, the left-hand-before-right habit in isolation is an anachronism these days. Alfred Brendel has discussed the issue in several of his articles, writing in 1976 of "indiscriminate and tasteless use" of the left-before-right device, and acknowledging that although its employment is legitimate for occasional emphasis, "used automatically and excessively, however, these expressive devices lose their charm and defeat their own purpose".

In Grimaud's DG recording of the Two Rhapsodies Op. 79, scarcely a single melody note in the right hand is aligned with the bass; the playing is totally indisciplined. The mannerism is not as pronounced in this new recording of the Brahms First Concerto with Andris Nelsons as it was in those Op. 79 performances, and there are many places where one is aware that Grimaud has thought even more deeply about the concerto since recording the work with Sanderling, but I find the knee-jerk 'expressive' mannerism so wearying that the performance is ruined.

If you are as allergic to this device as I am, try to sample the passage at 18:00 in the first movement before buying. Here the piano is playing alone, recapitulating the second subject, and it is one of the supremely moving passages in the movement, where the music comes to rest after the uproar of the development section, with a sense of having survived an onslaught. By playing with pianistic discipline (which intensifies the expressive effect, and in no way limits it), pianists such as Arrau or Gilels achieve genuine nobility of utterance; by comparison, Grimaud offers us only schoolgirl-style gushing.

I had hoped that her recording of the Second Concerto might offer some respite from the mannerism because it is a studio product rather than a live performance, and therefore created in a very different environment. However the same habit was in evidence here too, and I stopped listening after ten minutes as it was just too irritating to hear the hands constantly out of alignment.

While acknowledging that this negative response is just my personal view, and that I am in a minority, I thought I'd share it as a warning to listeners who may find Grimaud's mannerism equally tiresome. Read the other favourable reviews and you'll find that this 2CD set is widely admired - and in many passages I can understand why. Grimaud is in total control of those demanding keyboard parts; nevertheless, she is not in control of her facile knee-jerk mannerism, and for me it debases the music.
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on 11 March 2014
These are marvellous accounts of these two magnificent concertos. Grimaud has utterly undermined my sexist assumption that these concertos can only be done full justice by a man, such is the muscularity of much of the writing.
She has much of the impulsive romanticism that I so love about the Barenboim/Barbirolli recordings, but she is magisterial too when required and displays power and clarity in equal measure.
The final movement of the 1st concerto is as thrilling as i've ever heard it, and the sense of the live event is palpably captured. I was genuinely surprised therefore by how unspontaneous the audience are in registering their approval...i was expecting an eruption by the excitement Grimaud had generated through the closing pages!

Both concertos are given wonderful sound by the DG engineers, deep and sonorous without muddying Brahms' already deliciously chocolatey waters, and the piano is nicely forward in the mix, bringing its full power to bear without being unnaturally spotlit.

I would place this pairing above Nelson Friere, Nicholas Angelich and Stephen Hough among the most well thought of recent surveys of these two most rewarding titans of the piano concerto genre.
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VINE VOICEon 1 October 2013
I liked Grimauld's earlier recording with Sanderling (Piano Concerto No.1, Op 15/Sanderling) and have seen her recently performing No 1 live so I was looking forward to this. I wasn't disappointed:

No 1 - A live recording but a very good one with no obvious audience noise. (I have not listened on headphones yet where audience noise is more apparent.) It has the excitement of a live performance and Grimauld is a great live performer. I think her understanding of the work has developed and this is IMO a step-up from her earlier recording. The accompliment by Nelsons with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks is excellent and very much in harmony with Grimauld. I think if you want a modern interpretation you won't go far wrong with this.

No 2 - This is a studio recording and is IMO demonstration quality. I think most would agree that this is a much more subtle piece of music and I think Grimauld understands it. This is an excellent performance by her. The Wiener Philharmoniker under Nelsons are absolutely first rate with a very lush string tone. I'm going to be playing this a lot of the next few days and weeks.

This is an easy recommendation.
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on 30 November 2013
Should you like a dark , sonorous and flowing interpretation of The Brahms Piano concertos ,yet flashing in the dark , this is for you .
Along with the magnificent playing of Grimaud and the very superior orchestral playing conducted by Andris Nelsons ,
this is something very hard to beat . For many a year .
A great achievement by all concerned . The very best I have heard from Grimaud . Bravo !
Birgir Gudgeirsson .
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 May 2014
Two different worlds here, to my ears, both sonically and interpretively. The First Concerto, recorded in a live performance in Munich, is far too "gemutlich." It lacks tension and rhythmic spine, and it isn't until the opening of the final movement that we get a bit of the fire that is lacking earlier. Compared to, say, Szell's recording with Serkin, the recording of the orchestra seems sub-par, especially in the way the lower strings and winds are recorded -- they need to be more to the fore, and Nelsons needs to establish a much more definite rhythm to create some tension in that long first movement. It's not that it's too slow -- Barry Douglas is about the same in timing, but the rhythms are much more alive in his recording. Serkin and Szell are faster, however, and all the better for it. The orchestra as recorded is a bit homogenous in its sound, and the piano tone is a bit monochrome. Don't get me wrong -- it isn't terrible, but it is a bit ordinary.

Move to Vienna, in a different venue with a set-up that doesn't need to take account of the circumstances of live performance, and it's a different story. The piano tone has some sheen, the orchestral textures are evident, and both piano and orchestra seem more "present." Most important, the performance has much more life to it. The ebb and flow of the tension in the first movement is very well judged by both soloist and conductor, and the second movement, which starts like an Intermezzo, generates considerable drama of its own. Best of all, the shaping of the slow movement is magical, from the lovely chamber textures of the opening, through the more agitated second section, and the way Grimaud sets up the return of the cello late in the movement couldn't be bettered: it comes in like a benediction, and the close of the movement is deeply affecting. You can't fault the playing in the finale -- Nelsons and Grimaud get the grazioso just right, and there's humor in it too. It seems to me that Brahms ends the concerto with the scherzo -- and that maybe the first three movements deserve a better ending! But that's not the players' fault -- this is a really fine performance, very well recorded.
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on 2 October 2013
It must be an emotional experience for a gifted, dynamic pianist to approach the heights of the piano repertoire recording Brahms with a talented young maestro and two of the best European orchestras. Helene Grimaud clearly views these concertos as life-changing works, and here we have a serious major release that asks to be the most attractive one of both concertos since Pollini and Abbado, also on DG.

Approaching the 1st Concerto, we soon realize that Grimaud boasts great magnetism. She takes this beast of a concerto with an authoritative technique that leaves no doubts about her control. Every bar has the undisputed mastery that defines the greatest pianists. But what is most striking is her imagination, which defies the common conception that this is a ponderous, rambling concerto. She grabs the ear with phrasing that weaves the most beautiful lines without ever becoming self-conscious or losing her grasp. It's hard to fathom a more perfect marriage, "invincible yet vulnerable", as she put it. Everything is majestic, yet personal to the point of being nearly painful. And the variety she displays is breathtaking, from moments of near stillness in the gorgeous slow movement to the towering force of the finale, which sounds titanic yet gloriously adventurous--has anyone bettered it? At the podium, Andris Nelsons lets Grimaud carry the show, with accompaniment that is never aggressive. He prefers gentle refinement to open drama, which sounds like a bad idea, but it is the perfect compliment to Grimaud. He shares her sensitivity, to be sure, so the Bavarian Radio Symphony never sounds stiff. He conducts with great finesse, choosing sweet lyricism that truly sounds free.

Coming to the 2nd Concerto, we get a very similar approach, only the music is more inspiring and we now have the Vienna Phil. Actually, Grimaud logically views this concerto as more intimate than its predecessor, so this reading is rich, colorful, and always reflective--very autumnal, really. A quick listen makes this reading sound low key and it almost is. There's not much barnstorming. But Grimaud uses reflection as a vehicle to exploit the most captivating emotions. She's as mesmerizing when she phrases with tenderness as when she displays her full powers. She seems to be searching for meaning, using the concerto's nobility to communicate on a level of the deepest sincerity. It's grand and soaring with freedom, yet there's an element of fragility caused by the complete emotional vulnerability. It's hard to describe how gripping she is for those who haven't heard it. Nelsons adds to this feel with conducting that is surprisingly resigned. He sounds natural and fluid, yet he rarely produces sheer excitement. Sometimes it may catch the listener off guard, especially in the 2nd movement where he breathes a quick prayer where one expects blazing triumph (the start of the new theme in D around 4:45). Some will think he goes too far in his refined ecstasy, but what might not work by itself sounds perfect with the volatile Grimaud at the keyboard. I don't hesitate to place this reading with the best from Gilels, Barenboim, and Pollini.

At the end of the day, this is Grimaud's show, and her pianism is unforgettable, transforming these indisputable masterpieces. Other pianists may be more dazzling, but few have been as poetic, much less while still maintaining such astonishing control. Bravo.
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on 3 November 2014
I have several recordings of the Brahms piano concertos, but the Grimaud reading is by far my favourite. Passionate, immediate and alert, controlled rubato, a true master work.
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