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Brahms: Piano Concerto No 1 / Schiff, Solti, Vienna Philharmonic

Release Date: 10/03/2008 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 425110   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  András SchiffSir Georg Solti
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Hungarian connection is an important one in Brahms interpretation, given Brahms's own feel for the culture of that ancient and honoured outpost of Austria's imperial domains. Certainly, no two musicians better understood the last movement of the B flat Piano Concerto than Geza Anda and Ferenc Fricsay in their 1961 Berlin recording for DG (nla), and no conductor has realized the orchestral contribution of the D minor Concerto with more telling intensity than George Szell, not ony in his legendary Decca recording with Curzon but, earlier on LP only—with such master exponents of the D minor's transcendental moods as Schnabel (World Records—nla) and Serkin (CBS—also nla).

This latest—distinguished and beautifully
Read more recorded—account of the D minor Concerto is more in the Anda/Fricsay tradition than Szell's. The finale is notably lyrical in feel, lacking very little in general bite and thrust but a well projected Allegro non troppo that makes way for a sensitively contoured account of the second subject group. At the very start of the concerto, the combined sonority and attack of the Vienna Philharmonic and Solti might momentarily suggest a certain pummelling aggression in the offing, but this is not the case. The lyrical episodes of the first movement are long breathed and sweetly sung and Solti's control of the larger rhythms is admirable with playing of vintage beauty from the orchestra. The recording itself is very fine: old Decca hands drawing on first-rate technical resources and long years of experience in recording the VPO to produce sound of exemplary pedigree. The recording was made in Vienna's Konzerthaus and it is a joy to hear the distant but atmospherically present horns, and the woodwind soloists and choir so expertly sifted and 'placed' by Solti and the engineers.

By contrast, the piano itself makes initially rather an unfavourable impression, shallow and rather wooden-sounding was my first reaction though that is no longer how I would describe it. There is power and sonority in plenty, even though this is not a performance to parade such things, and there are passages of remarkable refinement of tone and colour with Schiffresponding sensitively, even sensuously, to the orchestra's chameleon colours in the chamber-music dialogues of the first and second movements. It would be interesting to know what kind of instrument is used. As it is, the booklet identifies only the speakers used for the recording sessions, a piece of information as unhelpful to the general collector as my revealing to an astonished world that this review is being typed on an Adler portable. The instrument's tone, or Schiff's coaxing of it, can take on at times a rather dry quality and in some of the main solo statements there is a perceptibly halting quality to his phrasing that you don't sense in the performances of the greatest masters of this work: Arrau (Philips), Curzon, Gilels (DG). But his reading has purpose and presence and a sensitivity that one recognizes from his Mozart concerto performances which are not entirely irrelevant even to this outwardly stormy work.

If it is difficult to see the performance quite eclipsing the three mentioned above, it is worth stating that Solti is a warmer, seemingly more committed Brahmsian than Abbado, Brendel's conductor, though the Philips performance could be said to have a clearer dramatic line and Brendel's playing bristles with the explicitly stated insights of an obviously aware and quick-witted man. The Ashkenazy/Haitink performance, also on Decca, is fine but Ashkenazy is rather allowed to hog the limelight, where the new Schiff/Solti has the distinction of not placing the piano too far forward. The new record also offers a fill-up, some Schumann Variations by Brahms, not the more familiar Op. 9 but this four-hand set, Op. 23, an appropriately sober, even at times gloomy work that reveals Solti to be as reliable a partner at the keyboard as he is on the podium.

-- Richard Osborne, Gramophone [10/1989]
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 1 in D minor, Op. 15 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  András Schiff (Piano)
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854-1858; Germany 
Variations for Piano 4 hands in E flat major on a theme by Robert Schumann, Op. 23 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Sir Georg Solti (Piano), András Schiff (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1861; Germany 

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