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Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 – Work No. 96 in our collection

Johannes Brahms (07.05.1833 – 03.04.1897) was a German composer and pianist and is considered to be one of the leading composers in the romantic period. He was born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, though he spent most of his career in Vienna, Austria. His most popular works include four symphonies, the Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80, two piano concertos, Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 and his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77.

Both of Brahms’s piano concertos are gargantuan works. His Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 was composed some 22 years after his first piano concerto. Brahms began work on the piece in 1878 and completed it in 1881 while in Pressbaum near Vienna. He dedicated his second piano concerto to his teacher, Eduard Marxsen.  The work received its first performance in Budapest on 9 November 1881, with Brahms as soloist with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. At nearly fifty minutes in duration, this concerto lasts longer than any other major Romantic piano concerto by quite some stretch.

Brahms was a master at writing music for the piano and as this four-movement concerto demonstrates, he was able to blend beauty with fire and tenderness with drama. In this expansive work Brahms takes his time to unveil his musical themes and ideas before we reach  the well-known thrilling, energetic finale. However this popular finale produces even greater enjoyment when heard as the culmination of that which precedes it.

If you have only ever heard the finale do set aside the time to listen to the entire work and in a wonderful performance such as that by Nelson Freire with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly you will be richly rewarded!

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Richard-Hamelin and Nagano excel in Chopin’s Piano Concertos

Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Charles Richard-Hamelin (piano), Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Kent Nagano (conductor)

Charles Richard-Hamelin is a young Canadian pianist who was born in Quebec. In 2015, he competed in the XVII International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, where he received not only the second prize but also the Krystian Zimerman Prize for the best sonata performance. This led to Richard-Hamelin touring throughout Canada performing works by Chopin and the Fryderyk Chopin Institute subsequently released a 2 CD set containing his audition performances for the contest.

On this current Analekta release we have Richard-Hamelin performing both of Chopin’s piano concertos, recorded live in the new Maison Symphonique in Montreal, with Kent Nagano and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. These are Chopin performances not to be missed. Richard-Hamelin follows Chopin’s markings with great precision whilst showing a clear grasp of the overall architecture of the works. At no stage does one feel that one is listening to an exhibition of pianism but rather to a refined performance of great originality. He is superbly accompanied by Kent Nagano and the orchestra whose playing manages to dispel any doubts regarding the quality of Chopin’s orchestration. The recording concludes with an encore piece, Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, Op. post. All of this has been captured, by the Analekta engineers, in sound quality that enables you to fully appreciate these beautiful performances. These will not replace Martha Argerich’s performances with the same orchestra under Charles Dutoit (see Work No. 83 in our collection) but I shall return to them frequently and I suspect that many Chopin lovers will wish to add this release to their collection no matter if they have a number of recordings in their collection already.

This release comes complete with a useful booklet containing notes¹, by Florence Brassard, on the two works  together with helpful notes about the soloist, orchestra and conductor and a full listing of the members of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

iClassical rating: (revised rating)

¹ Our download was originally supplied without a booklet and this is being investigated by the sales and marketing team at Analekta.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major – Work No. 95 in our collection

Franz Peter Schubert (31.01.1797 – 19.11.1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his early death, arising from from typhus and syphilis, Schubert left behind a vast output of fine music. He wrote more than 600 songs (or lieder), more than a dozen string quartets and 21 piano sonatas; he completed seven symphonies, with many more left unfinished; he wrote operas, masses, piano trios and duets. Yet there was only one public performance of his music during his lifetime.

Franz Peter Schubert

His most important works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D667 ‘The Trout’ (see Work 6 in our collection), his last three Piano Sonatas Nos. 19 – 21, his two great song cycles Winterreise D911Die schöne Müllerin, D795 (see Work 62 in our collection), his String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’ (see Work 72 in our collection) and his two outstanding symphonies: the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 ‘Unfinished’ and the Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 ‘The Great’.

Schubert would almost certainly be amazed to learn that he has come to be regarded as a great symphonist. His first two symphonies were written for his school orchestra, in which he played the violin and sang in the choir, and the next four for an amateur group assembled by the composer. All were intended to be heard once and then forgotten! However his last two symphonies have justifiably gained status as masterpieces of the symphonic repertoire.

The Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944, known as the ‘Great’ is the final symphony completed by Franz Schubert. The Great is Unusually long for a symphony of its time, a typical performance of the work lasts just under an hour although it can be much shorter depending upon the tempo chosen and whether the repeat sections, indicated in the score, are observed or not. D 944 is often considered Schubert’s finest piece for orchestra, this symphony is certainly one of his most innovative pieces. The symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A and C, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in C, 2 trumpets in A and C, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings. Whilst Beethoven had used the trombone for effect in Schubert’s two final symphonies the trombones become essential members of the orchestra playing throughout the piece, and even receive important melodic roles.

In terms of recordings the listener is spoilt for choice. There is a truly electrify live account from Günter Wand and the Berliner Philharmoniker, a controversial account from Roger Norrington and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra that splits opinion, a restrained, but revealing account from Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Ultimately we find ourselves turning towards Claudio Abbado for whom Schubert remained one of his favourite composers throughout his life. There is a hugely enjoyable account that he recorded with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe but if we had to select one performance it would have to be Abbado’s ‘live performance’ with the Orchestra Mozart recorded in a series of concerts at the Auditorium Teatro Manzoni, Bologna in 2011.

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Bavouzet provides interesting surprises in Mozart Piano Concertos

Mozart: Piano Concertos, Volume 4

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano), Manchester Camerata, Gábor Takács-Nagy (conductor)

We continue to be agreeably surprised by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in this fourth volume of Mozart piano concertos on Chandos. This release combines two of Mozart’s most popular, but contrasting, piano concertos; Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467 ‘Elvira Madigan’ and Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466 and cleverly interspersed by the overture from Don Giovanni, K527. The programme is held together by the fact that the two concertos were were written within four weeks of each other and the overture shares the same key as the D minor concerto and a sense of Sturm und Drang.

As has been the case in earlier volumes of the cycle Bavouzet is extremely responsive to every nuance from the orchestra and his interchanges with the woodwind section provide a source of great delight. In my view this is one of the finest recent versions of the ‘Elvira Madigan’ concerto and deserves a place in any collection.This is followed by an orchestral interlude in the form of a truly vigorous and energetic rendition of the great overture to Don Giovanni. What prevents this volume from receiving a top rating is the comparatively disappointing performance of the D minor concerto.

Bavouzet is performing on a Yamaha grand and this balances well with the Manchester Camerata under Gábor Takács-Nagy; as can be appreciated from this outstandingly well recorded recital. There is a very interesting, concise article about the pieces, written by the pianist, in the accompanying booklet.

Obviously collectors of the series need not hesitate in adding this CD or download to their library. For others this release is worth the purchase price for the recording of the ‘Elvira Madigan’ concerto and the overture alone.

iClassical rating: