Brahms: Piano Concertos – No 1 in D minor, Op 15; No 2 in B flat major, Op 83

Reviewed on Tue 05 Nov, 2013

In the accompanying booklet interview Hélène Grimaud promotes the idea of two Brahmses – the handsome young lion, and the wise, portly senior citizen. I make the point because her performances level these differences to a common voice: marmoreal piano writing, frequently broad tempos and a marked generosity of spirit. And yet the First Concerto sounds anything but youthful (compare Fleisher with Szell or Backhaus with Boult), with expressively splayed chords and enough breathing space to kill potential for impulsiveness, except at the start of the finale, which is refreshingly buoyant. Grimaud suggests that she finds the Second Concerto the more elusive of the two, though the evidence as presented seems to contradict her, with some beautifully sculpted phrasing and, again, effective if ‘old-fashioned’ de-synchronisation in the hands. Andris Nelsons is on hand with his two excellent orchestras (Bavarian Radio Symphony for the First, Vienna Phil for the Second), not exactly goading them on but proving supportive. The First is live, though for most of the time you’d never guess.
–Rob Cowan