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

Reviewed on Wed 30 Aug, 2017

The Elder/Kim partnership, hewing close to the speed of the composer’s beat, unfurl the big concept through playing that uninhibitedly nudges the extremes of flexibility.

A vein of melancholy stalks most of the first movement of No 1. Mark Elder’s pacing is certainly Maestoso, his balancing of instrumental lines very apposite, but the fiery thrust that others believe necessary has a blunter edge. It’s an optional point of view, and one shared with soloist Sunwook Kim, both musicians detecting where anguish and contemplation are also parts of the fabric; and wholly so in the slow movement. Tempo here may be a touch fast, but Kim depicts an elegiac sorrow, after which the storm of passion in the finale (structurally modelled on the counterpart of Beethoven’s Third piano concerto) feels pretty startling. In a leap of 23 years to No 2, a different work, no longer tersely severe, is on offer – unique, too, in that Brahms in a rare moment adds metronome markings to all movements. The first immediately speaks the changes; and the Elder/Kim partnership, hewing close to the speed of the composer’s beat, unfurl the big concept through playing that uninhibitedly nudges the extremes of flexibility. But structure never crumbles. Nor does it do in the second movement, Kim’s range of tone deeply sonorous, his feelings then deeply expressed in the Andante (supported by an equally eloquent cellist Nicholas Trygstad) and graciously but never superficially in the finale. As you may have gathered, this is a set you ought to own, however many versions of these pieces you have in your library.
–Nalen Anthoni