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Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2

Album cover image

SU 1994-2 031

--© Supraphon 1990

There are all the individual touches I expected in a performance by Moravec and the stereo sound is beautiful... outstanding playing by the Czech Philharmonic.

--Amazon.com listener
[Note]Superseded:

This recording has been remastered and replaced in the Supraphon catalog by Brahms Piano Concertos, SU 3865-2, which includes both Brahms concertos on a single CD.

Album notes

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) composed four instrumental concertos with orchestra (including the Double Concerto in A minor, op. 102). Though relatively few, they are of great artistic value, and each of them is a milestone in both the composer's development, and within the literature for the respective instrument. The above holds also for Brahms's penultimate composition of this type, namely his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83. It is a mature work which the composer began to write in spring 1878, or shortly after he had finished Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73, and which he completed in summer 1881, having in the meantime written, among others, the Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, Violin Sonata in G major, op. 78, and Two Rhapsodies for Piano, Op. 79. The Concerto was first performed on 9 November that year in Pest with the composer on the piano again as so often before.

The piano part in the Concerto in B-flat major makes great demands on the performer's technique, and the wide chordal and octave spans, the jumps into extreme positions alternating with rapid scale and chordal passages in both hands and, last but not least, the sheer length of the composition which clearly exceeds hitherto convention, also require from the performer a good physical condition and psychic concentration. As in Brahms' other works of this type, virtuosity is not in the centre of attention and is not an end in itself. The orchestra plays an equally important part. The symphonic claim in this perfect combination of concerto and symphony is manifested by the existence of four, instead of the usual three, movements with a scherzo having been inserted between the first and the slow middle movement.

The first movement (Allegro non troppo) begins - quite unusually - with a cadenza of the solo piano alternating, only in the introductory bars, with the unison of the French horns and the harmony of woodwind. (It is the only cadenza in the concerto.) Thematic and motivic work -influenced by the music of the Viennese classics and particularly Beethoven - is ubiquitous in Brahms. It pervades the movement throughout, from the first to the last bars, and is not limited to sonata-form development or the linking and modulation parts of exposition and recapitulation, as it had been in the work of his predecessors.

The second movement, an excited and restless Scherzo (Allegro appassionato) in D minor also links up with the tradition of Beethoven's symphonic scherzos. It is in the conventional ternary form with the contrasting middle part (trio, maggiore) in the D major key. The first section returns, however, considerably changed, as variations.

The third movement (Andante) is relatively short - as a stop, or rest, or intermezzo in 6/4 time - remarkable particularly for the more prominent part of some instruments in the orchestra, such as the cello in the beginning and shortly before the end, and the clarinets somewhat later, which enter into instrumental dialogue with the solo piano, as its effective counterpart in terms of sound colour. The modulation plan is equally colourful, based on a chromatic relationship between keys a third apart - B-flat major, D-flat major, and F-sharp major.

The final movement (Allegretto grazioso) in 2/4 time is a sonata-form rondo whose overall plan and the character of the individual thematic sections make it akin to the analogical movements in the sonatas and symphonies of Franz Schubert. It does not bring any other brilliant culmination or retum to the dramatic pathos of the first and second movements, but is rather a conciliatory lyrical closure of Brahms' impressive, monumental opus.

--© Jarmila Gabrielová 1995. Translation © Zoja Joachimová 1995

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