Johannes BRAHMS (1833-97)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 83.
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)
Introduction and Allegro appassionato, Op. 92.
Idil Biret (piano); Polish
National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Katowice/Antoni Wit.
Naxos 8.554089 [DDD]
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Originally released as part of a twelve CD-boxed set which included Brahms'
complete solo piano works, the two piano concertos and various works by Schumann
and Schubert (Naxos 8.501201), Beret's version of the Brahms Second has now
been allowed to breathe as a single issue. In a field as crowded as this,
any new entrant should bring something special to this evergreen music (a
price tag of a fiver does not qualify). There are so many better - Gilels/Jochum
or Pollini/VPO/Abbado spring immediately to mind, for example.
The recording strains at any dynamic level above a healthy forte, making
for periodically uncomfortable listening (especially from screeching violins),
just from an engineering standpoint. The recording dates from 1996, so it
would seem that Naxos have (in general) pulled their socks up, at least to
just over their ankles, since then. Musically, Biret takes the first movement
expansively, but lacks the nobility and the ability for long-range musical
thought to be able to convince. There are some splashes in the second movement,
where detail also tends to get lost in the general unfocussed sound-picture.
Full marks to Naxos for giving the cellist in the third movement an equal
billing to the conductor on the back of the jewel case, unpronounceable though
he may be to non-Poles. Zdzislaw Lapinski outshines both pianist and his
orchestral colleagues in eloquence.
The Schumann is an intelligent filler. Beret tries hard to be lyrical in
the Introduction, but her legato is ruined by over-projection. The Allegro
is more successful, but even there the flights of fantasy remain stubbornly
on the runway. Again, this piece is well represented in the catalogue (Rudolf
Serkin, Barenboim, Perahia and Schiff are amongst the competition), and Beret
can remain merely a (literally) cheap imitation of the real thing. To be