Johannes BRAHMS†(1833-1897)
Piano Concerto no. 3 in D major (after Violin Concerto, op. 77) (1878) [39:03]
Two Rhapsodies, op. 79: No. 1 in B minor [9:02]; No. 2 in G minor [6:17]
Scherzo in E-flat minor, op. 4 [10:58]
Dejan Lazic (piano)
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Robert Spano
rec. October 2009, no details of location given.

Taking a cue from Beethovenís arrangement of his violin concerto as a concerto for piano and orchestra, the pianist Dejan Lazic reworked Brahmsís violin concerto for his own solo performances. Presented here as Brahmsís Piano Concerto no. 3, this arrangement differs from Beethovenís because it was done posthumously by the performer, and is not based on the composerís intention to render the work in this manner. As Lazic states in the notes which accompany the recording, he took his cue from Brahmsís other transcriptions, including the cello version of the Violin Sonata in G major, the clarinet sonatas revised for viola, and Brahmsís piano (left-hand) arrangement of Bachís unaccompanied D-minor chaconne for solo violin. Lazicís fascination with Brahmsís Violin Concerto resulted in his own reworking of the violin part to become a solo part for piano, and thus stands with the composerís 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 Ė here the soloist Ė to render the music idiomatically for the instrument, with harmonic pitches, figuration, and sometimes contrapuntal passages. In this regard Lazicís 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 Brahmsís 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 Bachís 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 Brahmsís 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 Lazicís performance of Brahmsís Rhapsodies, op. 79, along with the composerís Scherzo in E-flat Minor, op.4. The latter is an early work, which benefits from Lazicís enthusiasm. These pieces emerged at different times in Brahmsís 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 Schubertís 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

Made persuasive by its idiomatic writing for piano Ö see Full Review