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Notes and Editorial Reviews
While it is unlikely to displace longtime listeners' existing favorite recordings of the work, Stephen Hough and Andrew Davis' 1991 Virgin recording of Brahms' D minor Piano Concerto is still well worth hearing by fans of the work or the musicians. The principal reason for this is the freshness and seriousness with which Hough approaches the piece. A tremendous virtuoso with a huge tone, a strong sense of tempo, and a winning way with phrasing a theme, Hough's playing here has a sense of freedom and passion that is hard to resist. While he still stays well within the limits of the score, Hough finds plenty of room for expression and interpretation. His account doesn't alter the work's fundamental outlines, but it does find interesting new
things to say about it. Davis, usually a staid conductor who rarely ventures outside his tradition-bound comfort zone, supports Hough with an accompaniment that roars, sings, and murmurs. Recorded in crisp, cool digital sound, this disc may not provoke older listeners to give up their Schnabel, Kempff, Arrau, and Pollini discs, but hardcore fans of the work may nevertheless still take pleasure in Hough's ride on Brahms' warhorse.
– James Leonard, All Music Guide
Recorded in 1989, Stephen Hough's dynamic performance of Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83, holds up quite well, even if the sound quality is a little less than desirable. As one of the great contemporary English pianists, Hough can be relied on to turn in a fascinating reading of practically anything, and his Brahms is no exception. Playing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Davis, Hough delivers a grandly poetic interpretation that allows both sweepingly broad gestures and intricate details, according to the music's dramatically changing character. The orchestra follows suit with a fluid and expansive accompaniment, and Davis' restrained direction gives Hough ample freedom to make the expression his own. All would be well with this recording if it weren't for the strange imbalances between the piano and orchestra: dim and recessed one minute, then bold and forward the next. The changes in volume and shifting focus of the sound seem the fault of whimsical mixing, and listeners need to concentrate to hear everything at the softest levels. Even so, Hough's performance is exceptionally virtuosic, lyrical, and moving, so the minor inconvenience of the variable sound should not prevent anyone's appreciation of this rewarding performance.
– Blair Sanderson, All Music Guide
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 1 in D minor, Op. 15 by Johannes Brahms
Stephen Hough (Piano)
Sir Andrew Davis
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1854-1858; Germany
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Wonderful April 14, 2013
By Richard H. (Glendale, AZ) See All My Reviews
"This is an excellent recording of the Brahms concertos and you get them all in one shot. I was skeptical at first as I am not all that familiar with the BBCSO, Hough or Davis. They turn in an excellent performance however and I was pleasantly surprised. It gets much playing time and I am glad it's in my library."
Good Performance Amidst Tough Competition April 1, 2013
By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews
"By any standards, Johannes Brahms' two piano concertos must be considered among the supreme achievements in European classical music. Like Tchaikovsky's 1st, Grieg's great gem, or Beethoven's Emperor, these two majestic works represent a summit which any performing artist must successfully scale in order to have 'made it'. Many have tried, and indeed the catalog is literally teeming with quality recordings, and I am sure every experienced classical music fan has his or her favorite, definitive recording of the Brahms concertos. As I listened to this early 1990's Virgin Records recording for the first time, I used a couple of my favorite recordings as reference points. First, I wanted to see if Stephen Hough's Brahms 1st could even remotely approach the juxtaposition of ferocity and gentleness which make Leon Fleisher's famous interpretation with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra a truly legendary recording. Further, I was also curious about the Hough/BBC Symphony Orchestra/Davis team's ability to sustain over two masterful concertos the near ideal balance of power, precision, and effective projection found in the acclaimed recording of both works by Emil Gilels and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the dirction of Eugen Jochum. High standards (summits) indeed! I started with Piano Concerto # 2, the wonderful four movement work sometimes labelled a symphony with piano accompaniment. In general, Stephen Hough's measured, delicate piano work seemed to match the leisurely, restrained performance of the orchestra. Where power and assertiveness was called for in spots by Brahms, soloist and orchestra supplied it without fail. One might be tempted to argue that a work of this magnitude and quality demands a more assertive, aggressive reading, but this is largely a matter of personal taste. For my part, this performance was just fine and is the result of Stephen Hough's and Andrew Davis' agreement on how to present Brahms great masterpiece in a noticeably refined, effective way. Now, Piano Concerto # 1 is a different matter altogether. Perhaps it is again a matter of personal taste, but for this reviewer, this work requires a powerful, 'no holds barred,' blazing orchestral opening, for which George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra set a standard which may never be equalled. Here the BBCSO also opened up with a great initial salvo, setting the stage for Stephen Hough' exquisite treatment of the extended first movement, appropriately marked 'Maestoso'- majestic music without question. In the second movement, both soloist and orchestra teamed up to deliver a gentle, impressive interpretation that almost reminded me of the breathtaking beauty of the Fleisher/Szell/Cleveland recording. Finally, the energetic Rondo of Brahms' third movement was fully served by soloist and orchestra in a stirring, vibrant finale. In summary, on this 2-CD set, Piano Concerto # 1 appears to be the definite winner in my judgement, stemming from what I believe to be a very high quality, powerful performance. Piano Concerto # 2 delivers a very solid account, but which may be vulnerable to some criticism for its 'laid back' nature throughout much of the interpretation. Virgin's sound quality is fine, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra justifies its fully deserved reputation as one of Britain's finest orchestras. I would still give first preference to the other recordings mentioned in this commentary, but the Stephen Hough/BBCSO/Andrew Davis edition deserves serious consideration, especially if one does not already have recordings of the Brahms piano concertos."