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Jonathan Woolf
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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1881) [46:48]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Les Djinns (1844) [11:59]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Concerto Pathétique in E minor (1886) [20:49]
Joshua Pierce (piano);
Bohuslav Martinů
Philharmonic Orchestra/Kirk Trevor.
rec. 28-29 May, 10-11 December 1999, Concert Hall of BMF/Zlin, Czech Republic.
MSR CLASSICS MS1148 [79.37]


I’ve heard Joshua Pierce’s recording of the First Concerto and it seems to me somewhat more successful than this performance of the Second. Pierce is an athletic and commanding player and despite some moments to the contrary is not an exponent of the Bang and Crash school in Brahms. But the first disappointment is that he has been accorded the kind of recorded balance more befitting one of the Titans of the 1950s. Think of the kind of thing upon which Rubinstein insisted and indeed was insisting well into the 1970s and you’ll have some idea of how over-prominent is the piano. It comes at the cost of obscuring and clouding some significant orchestral detail – notably some counter-themes that should be heard but are frustratingly deficient in the balance. And in the first movement subsidiary piano material is promoted at the expense of the orchestral.

Pierce’s approach is to favour rather brittle attacks. He’s not brusque, exactly, or insensitive but another cost of the recording comes at the expense of dynamic variance. Frankly, as well, a certain weariness came across me as he launched ever onwards buffeted by the unequal balance. Allied to this is the fact that Pierce tends to force passagework in a virile but terse way. It means that the slow movement is rather matter-of-fact and the finale very much too dogged. The Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra sounds oddly unconvinced by the whole affair – and in addition their principal horn has a saxophonic tone.

There are two fillers. The Franck is a rather Lisztian tone poem and though the balance still favours the pianist it’s less one-sided – or seems so at any rate. It would really need someone like a Moiseiwitsch to bring this evocative but not entirely successful work fully to life. Pierce has all the notes but the brooding and the mercurial are not perhaps ideally realised. Liszt’s bombastic Concerto Pathétique is a worthwhile discovery. The grandioso is on full show in this performance. Pitting filigree piano treble against static low brass is fully effective – and well brought off here – and Liszt certainly spins a suggestive flute line. Whether the Parsifalian brass at the end is as impressive I’ll leave to you to decide.

And whether you’ll be prepared to take a punt on fillers given the unsatisfactory Brahms is a more seriously moot point.

Jonathan Woolf



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