Brahms: Piano Concertos No 1 & 2 / Moravec, Belohlávek

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Ivan Moravec's beautifully sculpted, Chopin-esque playing makes for a uniquely poetic Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1. That's not to say it's all light and frilly; on the contrary, Moravec summons great passion in the score's more rhetorical passages while eschewing the heavy "sturm und drang" of many latter-day interpreters (who seem to have forgotten that Brahms was in the flower of youth when he first conceived this work). Jirí Belohlávek is of a similar mind as he leads a brisk and bracing accompaniment, but his oddly and frustratingly subdued timpani diminishes the music's dramatic impact. Listen to the thunderous drum rolls that launch the classic (and still riveting) Fleisher/Szell recording and you get the sense that had this not been missing in Belohlávek's reading, his might have been a truly enthralling performance.

Concerto No. 2 needs no such qualification. Here both soloist and conductor go for the gusto, with Moravec scintillating in the first, second, and last movements, and wonderfully poignant in the great adagio. Belohlàvek's crisp and energetic conducting, along with the Czech Philharmonic's fabled clarity, finesse, and individual artistry (the adagio's famous cello solo rarely has been played so beautifully) give this work a spark and spontaneity not usually associated with Brahms. Indeed, this performance makes the concerto sound like an expansion of one of the composer's large-scaled chamber works. The 1990s recordings tend to favor the high frequencies, but otherwise they give a believable sense of the orchestra in the spacious acoustic of Prague's Dvorák Hall. After Fleisher/Szell, this is one to keep.

--Victor Carr Jr,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SU3865-2

  • UPC: 099925386528

  • Label: Supraphon

  • Composer: Johannes Brahms

  • Conductor: Jirí Belohlávek

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Ivan Moravec