BRAHMS Piano Concertos (Laloum)
The French pianist Adam Laloum is Sony’s newest young artist on the block, signed in 2016. Seven years earlier he won the Clara Haskil Competition (often a marker of major musical talent). Certainly the repertoire choice for his debut recording on the label is bold – reminiscent of another Sony signing, a certain Mr Levit. The comparisons don’t end there, either, for they were both born in 1987 and both are clearly being marketed as musicians of entirely serious intent, Laloum pictured with his eyes cast away from the camera. Happily, that seriousness is borne out by the playing in the two Brahms concertos.
The Sony engineers have placed the piano at the front of the sound picture, so there’s never the slightest danger Laloum will not be heard. He’s an artist who relishes the lyrical side of his chosen instrument, which is clear from his very first entry in the D minor Concerto and from then on in, with Laloum insinuating himself into the orchestral textures and accompanying figures with a naturalness that betrays his love of chamber music. But he can be bold as well as gentle: his octaves have power without sounding acerbic, and trills are sternly glinting. Occasionally I wanted more of a push through this mighty movement, such as Paul Lewis finds in his thrilling account, compared to which Laloum sounds almost too controlled. But his real clarity of texture is refreshing and the final bars have superb confidence. The slow movement is finely honed, though Laloum doesn’t yet have quite as much to say as Lewis or Hough. But his finale dances with real spirit, and he has fire in his belly where the music demands it.
The Second Concerto has many good things in it – the Scherzo superbly combining energy and a lift that gives it a real one-in-a-bar feel, compared to which Moog sounds like a bit of a speed merchant. And the tempo of the slow movement means that it sounds entirely unfussy (unlike Moog’s overly steady account), the cello solo unfolding with great naturalness, while the solo oboe is caressing without over-egging matters. Laloum is at the centre of things yet never overly dominant and the close of the Andante is very beautifully done. Again, Laloum can’t yet match the rapture of Freire but there’s time for that. The finale is as crisp as newly laundered linen, though just occasionally I hankered after a little more playfulness. But certainly an impressive achievement.