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Brahms: Piano Concerto No 3 (After Violin Concerto) / Lazic, Spano, Atlanta Symphony

Brahms / Lazic / Aso / Spano
Release Date: 03/09/2010 
Label:  Channel Classics   Catalog #: 29410  
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Dejan Lazic
Conductor:  Robert Spano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

This is one outstanding recording, and Lazi? has done everyone a service by coming up with this very serviceable and idiomatic arrangement...he includes the two Rhapsodies as well, two of everyone’s favorite pieces, and these readings are absolutely top-notch in every way, in tempo, voicing, and overall arch. In fact, I now rank these with my three previous favorites, by Lupu (London), Rubinstein (RCA), and Klien (Vox). This is definite Want List material for sure, and deserves the highest recommendation.

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BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 3 in D, after Violin Concerto, op. 77 (arr. Lazi?). 2 Rhapsodies, op. 79. Scherzo in e?, op. 4 Dejan Lazi? (pn); Robert Spano, cond; Atlanta SO CHANNEL 29410 (SACD: 66:10)


Dejan Lazi? has been working on this arrangement of the Brahms Violin Concerto for many years, having fallen in love with the piece when much younger and considering it a masterpiece that should no longer be kept from the hands of pianists. I had, upon receiving this disc, a lot of qualms, admittedly premature, but not without reason as my past experience with this sort of thing cannot be considered quality time. I emphatically do not like Beethoven’s reworking of his Violin Concerto, and I have to believe that if Brahms was writing this music for the piano he would have done things a lot differently.


There. I feel much better. But now the mea culpa: This is one outstanding recording, and Lazi? has done everyone a service by coming up with this very serviceable and idiomatic arrangement. Mind you, this is not going to replace the original, and I will not even begin to compare it with any of the great violin versions. That’s not the point. What is the point is that anyone coming to this work in this version, while not able to ascertain any kind of new insights to the piece, will be able to admire the performance to no end, and to understand that pianists now have access to a work that is transformable and transferable to a new idiom that is able to convey its emotive and pristine core to an audience.


Brahms would have done it differently; there are passages where some of the third and sixth harmonies in the winds get obscured by the piano filigree. And there are other areas where the sustaining power of a single note on the violin simply is not possible on the piano and either gets left alone or doctored in an unsatisfactory manner to try and re-create the effect of the violin. But for the most part Lazi? leaves such things alone and lets the sheer power of the music speak for itself in the new medium. Robert Spano’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra plays with a glistening beauty that is captured magnificently by the Channel engineers, almost transforming the usually horrid acoustic of Symphony Hall Atlanta into something resonant and attractive. I was not able to get any substantive response from the ASO offices about this recording or the current status of the ASO contract with Telarc—I have heard it is in jeopardy since Telarc was bought out (and apparently straying from the SACD format—there goes the audiophile angle), and it would be nice to see if Channel is entering into any agreement with them; I just don’t know. But the differences between the Channel approach and Telarc’s are instructive, the former backing the orchestra up a bit from the microphones while Telarc is more immediate. Both have advantages depending on repertoire. Here it works well, in excellent surround sound.


The Scherzo is from 1851 and is the earliest surviving composition from the 18-year-old composer. At 11 minutes it is significant, and reflects the influence of Beethoven and, especially, Schubert. Lazi? gives a fine performance. And fortunately he includes the two Rhapsodies as well, two of everyone’s favorite pieces, and these readings are absolutely top-notch in every way, in tempo, voicing, and overall arch. In fact, I now rank these with my three previous favorites, by Lupu (London), Rubinstein (RCA), and Klien (Vox). This is definite Want List material for sure, and deserves the highest recommendation.


FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter


Taking a cue from Beethoven’s arrangement of his violin concerto as a concerto for piano and orchestra, the pianist Dejan Lazic reworked Brahms’s violin concerto for his own solo performances. Presented here as Brahms’s Piano Concerto no. 3, this arrangement differs from Beethoven’s because it was done posthumously by the performer, and is not based on the composer’s intention to render the work in this manner. As Lazic states in the notes which accompany the recording, he took his cue from Brahms’s other transcriptions, including the cello version of the Violin Sonata in G major, the clarinet sonatas revised for viola, and Brahms’s piano (left-hand) arrangement of Bach’s unaccompanied D-minor chaconne for solo violin. Lazic’s fascination with Brahms’s Violin Concerto resulted in his own reworking of the violin part to become a solo part for piano, and thus stands with the composer’s two pieces in this genre.
 
The result is persuasive for its idiomatic writing for piano, which has a sense of authenticity within the context of the Violin Concerto itself, and also in the style of piano writing Brahms used for his piano concertos. In terms of execution, the idiom of piano mediates well some of the registral demands of the violin. The technical evenness of the piano as a solo instrument makes it possible to transcribe the solo part literally and then requires the arranger – here the soloist – to render the music idiomatically for the instrument, with harmonic pitches, figuration, and sometimes contrapuntal passages. In this regard Lazic’s efforts work well, and this emerges particularly strongly in the development section of the first movement. In this passage and in various other places in the transcription, the ideas Brahms used for the solo violin part seem well suited to the piano, while elsewhere it is difficult not to recall the intended timbres. After all Lazic did not change the scoring of the accompaniment, and this affects the texture when the solo instrument shifts from string to keyboard.
 
At bottom, though, it is important to listen for the musicianship that Lazic brings to the performance. The point of the arrangement is the way the music of Brahms’s Violin Concerto moves Lazic to find a way to perform the work. As a pianist, his mode of expression is to take the work to his instrument. This is by no means a new or controversial practice in music, but belongs to a tradition that can be found in a number of pieces by Bach, Liszt, Mahler, Britten and other figures. This is testimony to the deep impression some works make in prompting musicians to respond in a similarly creative manner. While modern aesthetics value authenticity, especially with regard to the aim of remaining faithful to the perceived intentions of the original composer, it is also worth considering the merits of adaptations like the present one in which an artist is inspired to pursue something outside those boundaries. Precedents exist for this in various style periods. The si placet voices associated with Renaissance music are evidence of the way some composers grafted their own ideas onto the otherwise complete and satisfying textures intended by earlier ones. Likewise adaptation and reworking emerged in the Baroque era, and can be found with some of Bach’s music, as well as his contemporaries. In the nineteenth century, such cross-fertilization could occur in various ways, when composers adapted music from one medium to another, and it is this kind of approach that Lazic espouses as he discusses the aesthetics of Brahms’s time, when adaptations were part of the performing tradition.
 
In supporting these efforts, Robert Spano has provided a solid accompaniment with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. From the outset the orchestral sonorities Spano derived from his ensemble represent well the carefully thought out textures Brahms scored, and one almost anticipates the violin entering after the finely played introduction. Throughout the tempos are convincing, suggesting at times the performing style of the Violin Concerto while working well with the piano as the solo instrument. The deft accompaniment Brahms used to underscore some of the solo passages for the violin work well with piano, and stand apart nicely from the solo instrument because of the different timbres involved. In accompanying the piano, Spano responded in a satisfying way in allowing the orchestra to enter discreetly. The challenges emerge in the last movement, which can be that way in the original scoring. Here it is worth hearing the interaction between piano and orchestra in rendering the conclusion of the concerto. While it is a small point, the cadenza seems to offer a bit of repose, when it needs to maintain the tension that exists in the piece to that point. Yet the live recording preserves the response of the audience to this version of the famous work.
 
The recording includes Lazic’s performance of Brahms’s Rhapsodies, op. 79, along with the composer’s Scherzo in E-flat Minor, op.4. The latter is an early work, which benefits from Lazic’s enthusiasm. These pieces emerged at different times in Brahms’s career, and while the Rhapsodies may seem more idiomatic of his style, the Scherzo represents another side of the composer when he was developing his voice. The thinner textures and repetition of short motifs evoke Schubert’s style, but also give some indication of the composer who would soon express himself in his Ballades, op. 10. The inclusion of these pieces helps to round out the image of Lazic as an Brahms interpreter.

-- James L. Zychowicz, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Dejan Lazic (Piano)
Conductor:  Robert Spano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; Austria 
Notes: Piano and orchestra version arranged: Dejan Lazic  
2.
Scherzo for Piano in E flat minor, Op. 4 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Dejan Lazic (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
3.
Rhapsodies (2) for Piano, Op. 79 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Dejan Lazic (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1879; Austria 

Featured Sound Samples

Violin Concerto (arr for piano): I. Allegro non troppo

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