Top 10 piano concertos

Gramophone Tue 15th April 2014

The top 10 piano concertos – from Mozart to Rachmaninov – with highly recommended recordings

One of the richest corners of the repertoire (and one of the most popular) in which a solo piano is pitted against the orchestra – with invariably thrilling results. Mozart may have lifted the piano concerto into the modern age, but in the hands of the great Romantic masters it became a form for expression of colossal variety. Here are 10 of the greatest of all piano concertos.

No 1

Mozart Piano Concerto No 27

Andreas Staier (pf) Freiburg Baroque Orchestra / Gottfried von der Goltz

'Playing an attractive copy of a 1780s Anton Walter fortepiano, with its beautiful silvery treble and light, nutty bass, Andreas Staier confirms his credentials as a Mozartian of flair and insight. He is careful not to overdo the first movement's elegiac associations. The development, with its close contrapuntal dialogues, unfolds with a fine impassioned sweep. The Larghetto ideally balances simplicity and expressive flexibility, while the gracefully lilting finale has just the right touch of quizzical playfulness...' Read review

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No 2

Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5

Paul Lewis (pf) BBC Symphony Orchestra / Jiří Bělohlávek

'And so, all in all, these records take their place among the finest Beethoven piano concerto performances so that even when you recall beloved issues by Wilhelm Kempff, Emil Gilels, Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia (to name but four), Lewis ensures that you return refreshed and with a renewed sense of Beethoven’s range and beauty...' Read review

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No 3

Brahms Piano Concerto No 1

Nelson Freire (pf) Gewandhaus Orchestra / Riccardo Chailly

'This is the Brahms piano concerto set we’ve been waiting for. Nelson Freire and Riccardo Chailly offer interpretations that triumphantly fuse immediacy and insight, power and lyricism, and incandescent virtuosity that leaves few details unturned, yet always with the big picture in clear sight...' Read review

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No 4

Schumann Piano Concerto

Leif Ove Andsnes (pf) BPO / Mariss Jansons

'Andsnes is firmly supported by Jansons and the Berlin Philharmonic, with playing not just refined but dramatic too in fiercely exciting tuttis. Schumann’s cello melodies are gloriously warm, with textures in both works admirably clear, and Andsnes fully responds to Schumann’s espressivo and ritardando requests. ...' Read review

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No 5

Grieg Piano Concerto

Javier Perianes (pf) BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

'It takes a brave man to record the Grieg Piano Concerto with the spectres of pianists such as Lipatti, Michelangeli, Lupu, Perahia and Andsnes long celebrated on disc. But the young Spanish virtuoso Javier Perianes’s performance is of such a fearless and arresting brilliance that it virtually erases memories of the past. For here is the Grieg restored to all its first icy, northern and unsentimental glory...' Read review

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No 6

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1

Martha Argerich (pf) BPO / Claudio Abbado

'Argerich has never sounded on better terms with the piano, more virtuoso yet engagingly human. Lyrical and insinuating, to a degree her performance seems to be made of the tumultuous elements themselves, of fire and ice, rain and sunshine...' Read review

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No 7

Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 3

Martha Argerich (pf) BPO / Claudio Abbado

'There have been others to match the bustle and brilliance of Argerich's Prokofiev, her coloristic range, her drive, her flashiness, her straining at the leash. But I'm not sure I could name anyone who has so satisfyingly combined all those qualities, who has given us such a rocket-launched recapitulation in the first movement, such circus-routine vividness in the following variations (Prokofiev grew up in a Russia where 'circusization of the arts' was one of the 'in' concepts), or such monstrous, hyperbolic fairy-tale imagery in the finale, and all done with the most engaging reckless abandon...' Read review

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No 8

Ravel Piano Concerto

Krystian Zimerman (pf) Cleveland Orchestra / Pierre Boulez

'Zimerman’s pianism is self-recommending. His trills in the first movement of the G major Concerto are to die for, his passagework in the finale crystal-clear, never hectic, always stylish. For their part Boulez and the Clevelanders are immaculate and responsive; they relish Ravel’s neon-lit artificiality and moments of deliberate gaudiness...' Read review

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No 9

Bartók Piano Concerto No 2

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (pf) BBC PO / Gianandrea Noseda

'The Second Concerto gives Anda, Kocsis, Schiff, Donohoe and Andsnes a fair run for their money, with plenty of air freshening the pages of the first movement, where in the wrong hands the warring combination of brass, piano and percussion can overwhelm in quite the wrong way. Not here though...' Read review

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No 10

Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2

Leif Ove Andsnes (pf) BPO / Antonio Pappano

'The Second Concerto is given a Rolls-Royce reading with which only the pickiest could find fault. The last movement, though, is something special and the final appearance of its glorious second subject, greeted with a mighty timpani wallop and braying brass, is heart-stopping. The audience rightly roar their approval...' Read review

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