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Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
Piano Concerto #1 in d, Op 15 (1859) [46.20]
Artur Rubinstein, piano
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
Recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, Illinois, USA, 17 April 1954
Recorded in 2.0 stereo. Remastered in the DSD system by Soundmirror, Inc.
Notes in English. Technical notes in Deutsch and Français. ADD
Hybrid SACD Playable on all cd players

RCA BMG 82876 66378-2 [46:20]

Comparison Recordings:

Leon Fleisher, George Szell, Cleveland SO Sony [ADD] MH2K 63225
Lazar Berman, Erich Leinsdorf, CSO CBS MK 45806
John Ogdon, Leopold Stokowski, American SO [1969 ADD] Music & Arts CD-4844
Emil Gilels, Eugen Jochum, BPO [ADD] DGG 431 595-2

Opus 15 was Brahms’ third essay in symphonic form in his self-set task to add another symphony to the canon begun by Beethoven. He got as far as a two piano version, then orchestrated only one of the piano parts, saved the andante movement to use in the Deutsches Requiem, and wrote a new finale to give us the concerto as we have it today.

In general I admire Artur Rubinstein’s concerto recordings a great deal. In my view his recording of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto with orchestra conducted by Josef Krips is clearly the finest recording of that work ever made, and it is to be hoped that we’ll see that recording issued soon in this wonderful SACD series on RCA/BMG.

In this recording the piano and orchestra are recorded close and the attention to detail is exemplary; however, I am disappointed by this performance. It’s in the reflective, dignified, monumental mould, similar to the Gilels/Jochum version on DG. I am aware that there are many who feel this is the right approach to Brahms — rounded, sentimentalised, softened — but I like more tension and violence in the performance. The CSO, generally in very good form, sound a bit imprecise and uncommitted at odd moments, having by my recollection played more sharply for Leinsdorf in his digital recording with Lazar Berman.

I feel that it is the Fleisher/Szell recording which correctly captures the wild youthful impetuosity of this work, and that is to my taste one of the finest of recordings of anything by Brahms. Amazingly although this Rubinstein performance seems to drag along, the timings of each of the movements of these two recordings are all but identical, showing that musical time is mostly subjective, and that both conductors are conscientiously observing metronome markings. This is not to suggest that Rubinstein and Reiner play without tension or drama — far from it — just that Szell and Fleisher give us more and in this instance more is better.

The timings with the Stokowski/Ogdon recording also match the others very closely, even though Stokowski, like Reiner, occasionally sweetens a lyrical phrase; but Stokowski does so with more grace and effect and without losing forward momentum. Ogdon’s playing is crisp, accurate, and passionate and the orchestra support him closely. Stokowski gives us a particularly affecting slow movement. The sound is radio broadcast quality stereo with some audience noise, but quite close and full range; the American Leopold Stokowski Society issue of this performance also contained rehearsal excerpts on the disk.

Paul Shoemaker

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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