BRAHMS Piano Concertos 1 & 2
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. The D minor No 1’s headlong opening tutti updates Szell/Cleveland’s patented fire and brimstone with a warmth of tone that manages to convey both line and mass as few others do – the slower, bleaker Sanderling (Erato, 7/98), or Harnoncourt (Teldec, 8/00) traversals, for example. Timpani and brass proudly step up to the fore in both concertos, while frequently buried lines emerge from the gnarly textures with uncommon clarity and specificity. In Chailly’s hands, a genuine chamber music aesthetic consistently governs the lustrous warmth of Brahms’s underrated orchestrations, to say nothing of the heights to which the conductor has led his revitalised Leipzig Gewandhaus ensemble.
Balanced within the orchestra as an equal partner, Freire is completely on top of and inside both works’ solo parts, from No 1’s fervent yet cogently shaped octave outbursts and the B flat’s graceful, light-footed finale to both slow movements’ unforced simplicity, organic flow, and freedom from sentimentality. No doubt that the presence of an audience fuels the palpable give and take between soloist and conductor. Just as the Szell/Cleveland cycles with Serkin and Fleisher (Sony, 3/94R, 4/98) and Gilels/Jochum (DG, 6/96) were benchmarks in their day, these gorgeously engineered, stunningly executed and temperamentally generous performances will stand as points of reference for generations to come.