BRAHMS Piano Concerto No 2 (Goerner)
Alpha is a label that gets ever more wide-ranging, as witness the discs of Shostakovich chamber music (see page 63) and this live Brahms Second Piano Concerto that have come my way this month. The Brahms was caught live in Tokyo in 2009 and, at full price and with no filler, it needs to be special indeed to make its mark.
With Nelson Goerner you know you’re going to get something intelligent and supremely musical and this Brahms is no exception. Tadaaki Otaka is clearly on the same wavelength, temperamentally speaking, and the NHK Symphony acquit themselves well. Goerner is quite forwardly placed in the acoustic mix so there’s never any danger of him being swamped or having to fight to make himself heard. And the audience are supremely well behaved, virtually inaudible until the applause at the end.
In a way, the audience’s behaviour sums up the performance too: it’s respectful, with everything very much under control – ironically, given it’s live, you never feel the music is being pushed and pulled in the excitement of the moment. This approach serves Goerner & co well in the first movement, which is well paced and convincingly conveys a sense of the epic. But at the start of the Scherzo, how much more telling is Wigglesworth’s way with the strings and horn phrasing, which is imbued with a dragging heaviness to which Hough responds with great immediacy. In the same movement, Otaka slows down at the tranquillo e dolce marking, a common enough tendency but not one marked in the score. If Joseph Moog is too driven in this movement to convey its full emotional clout, at least he doesn’t succumb to the temptation to slow down at this point. That impetus and depth of feeling can be combined is brilliantly demonstrated in the classic yet ever-fresh Fleisher/Szell reading, still as vibrant today as it ever was.
The cello solo in the slow movement of Fleisher’s account has a direct emotionalism that is very much in keeping with the performance as a whole. The cellist on this new recording sounds altogether more contented, which makes for a serenity that is matched by Otaka and Goerner. It doesn’t come close to the soul-searching majesty of the other Nelson – Freire – in the company of Chailly. But Goerner’s finale sets off with a nice impishness and the coda is triumphantly upbeat.