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Brahms, Franck, Liszt / Joshua Pierce, Kirk Trevor, Et Al

Release Date: 01/24/2006 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1148   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes BrahmsCésar FranckFranz Liszt
Performer:  Joshua Pierce
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2 in B?. FRANCK Les Djinns. LISZT Concerto pathétique in e ? Joshua Pierce (pn); Kirk Trevor, cond; Bohuslav Martinu PO ? MSR 1148 (79:36)

Born in New York, Joshua Pierce studied at Juilliard, the Manhattan School of Music, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Columbia University. Among his teachers and mentors were Artur Balsam, Victor Babin, and Arthur Read more Loesser. With a pedigree like that, it is little wonder that Pierce is one fantastic pianist who has to his credit a quite eclectic discography spread among a number of various labels. It appears, however, that this is his first walk down Romantic Main Street; though the emporia he has chosen to visit, except for the Brahms, are not exactly Repertoire Central.

I kid you not when I tell you that Pierce?s Brahms Second puts my long-standing favorite, Fleisher/Szell, at grave risk. This is one of the most difficult of piano concertos to bring off, and Pierce?s reading of it is about as near to perfect as one is likely to hear. The identity crisis of his First Concerto behind him, Brahms now no longer suffers confusion over what he is about. The Second Piano Concerto is a concerto in name only. It is symphonic in dimension and scope, and had Brahms called it a ?symphony with piano,? I doubt that anyone would have taken issue with him. Like much else of Brahms?s music for piano, the B? Concerto does not lie comfortably on the keyboard; it is not natural to the piano, as is the music of Chopin and Liszt. This is not to say that Chopin and Liszt are easy; rather, it is that their technical difficulties find solutions that are innately pianistic. But this alone is not what makes the Brahms so challenging. It is the way in which the piano engages with the orchestra. It is not a protagonist vs. the world relationship. It is an interleaved dialogue in which sentences begun by one are taken up, continued, and completed by the other in a continuous conversation. Timing, inflection, dovetailing are critical. Pierce is a powerhouse who negotiates Brahms?s hurdles effortlessly, as do most pianists who tackle the work; but what makes this performance a standout is the rapt and seemingly intuitive engagement between Pierce, Kirk Trevor, and the Bohuslav Martinu orchestral forces, the magic of oneness I?ve encountered only rarely in readings of this score.

Programming César Franck?s symphonic poem for piano and orchestra, Les Djinns (?The Genies?) was quite the master stroke, and not just because it is so seldom heard. Equally interesting is that Franck?s piece, though closer in style and content to Liszt?s symphonic tone poems, takes a similar approach to the Brahms in fashioning the role of the solo piano in relation to the orchestra. Whether by accident or design, it is significant that ArkivMusic.com categorizes its only other two listings of the piece not under ?Soloist and Orchestra,? but under ?Orchestral.? Both of those recordings, which I?ve heard (on BIS with pianist Kerstin Åberg and on Naxos with pianist François-Joël Thoillier), are competitive with Pierce, and may be preferred by some for offering all-Franck programs. But Trevor?s and Pierce?s Les Djinns is very fine, and for me this particular mixed program makes good sense.

You might think that Pierce has offered Liszt?s Concerto pathétique as the cherry on the sundae, but the fact is that this Lisztian virtuosic confection also has a logic within the context of this program. It is both the earliest and the latest of the three items on the disc. Begun some 35 years earlier as a grand concert for solo piano, the piece underwent a number of transformations and title changes before finally being published in 1886 in its current form in an arrangement by Liszt?s pupil, Eduard Reuss. Shades of Brahms and his First Piano Concerto? Given the time span over which the Concerto pathétique shape-shifted, it stands as an ?amazing amalgam of Liszt?s musical thought and style over the final four decades of his life,? says Eric Salzman, who believes the piece is indeed Liszt?s ?unacknowledged Piano Concerto No. 4.?

For all lovers of great concerted music for piano and orchestra, and for phenomenally fine playing and recording all around, this is highly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878-1881; Austria 
Les Djinns, M 45 by César Franck
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884; France 
Concerto pathétique, S 365 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1857; Germany 

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