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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto no.3 in D major, after Violin Concerto op.77 (1879/2008) arr. Lazić [39:03]
Two Rhapsodies, op.79 (1879): No.1 in B minor [9:02]; No.2 in G minor [6:17]
Scherzo in E-flat minor, op.4 (1851) [10:58]
Dejan Lazić (piano)
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Robert Spano
rec. Symphony Hall, Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, USA (concerto) and Frits Philips Muziekcentrum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (solo pieces); October 2009

Experience Classicsonline

In the long-forgotten 1946 Hollywood movie Humoresque, Joan Crawford plays a rich patroness of the arts - and of attractive young men. When asked about her taste in classical music, she offers – with a completely straight face - the immortally daft response that she likes “some symphonies ... most concertos”. Just think about it ...

That throw-away line neatly encapsulates a - thankfully not very widely shared - view that concertos are pretty well interchangeable. “Don’t like that one done on the violin? OK, we’ll change it to a piano ...” But, ridiculous idea though it seems when put in that way, that was, after all, exactly what no less a figure than Beethoven did when, frustrated by the relative commercial failure of his op.61 violin concerto, he turned it into an op.61a concerto for piano.

It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was enjoying an even more radical “new” piano concerto – a Rachmaninoff fifth that has been constructed from themes taken from his second symphony (see here). But the creative process on this new disc is not quite so unconventional, turning, as it does, Brahms’s well-loved violin concerto into a third piano concerto.

The soloist on this disc, 32 years old Croatian-born Dejan Lazić, was himself responsible for the transformation, taking five years over the project before its eventual completion in 2008. As he writes in the booklet notes, “I was intrigued by the idea of rendering it [the concerto] in an idiomatic version for piano and orchestra. The ultimate aim was clear: I wanted to perform it myself!”

Understandable though such a desire might be in its own terms, Lazić tries to justify his aim with a little pseudo-historical speculation. He tentatively suggests that the spark for Brahms’s music was less a desire to write a concerto specifically for the violin than a wish to write one for his close friend Joseph Joachim – who just happened to be a violinist but who might equally have been “a cellist or a clarinettist, or even ... a pianist!” Hence, argues our soloist, the music itself is more important than the solo instrument that happens to play it. Moreover, with Brahms’s own track record of re-arranging and transcribing compositions such as his G major violin sonata (for cello) or his clarinet sonatas (for viola), Lazić ventures to hope that the composer himself “would not have anything against my idea.” And so - voila! - here we have the “new” Brahms/Lazić piano concerto...

The result is a surprisingly convincing piece of rescoring that is oddly enough, to my ears at least, more reminiscent of Brahms’s first piano concerto of 1858 than that of his second of 1881, even though the 1878 violin concerto is far closer in its period of composition to the latter rather than to the former.

As you might expect, the very different inherent characteristics of the solo instruments do make a significant difference to the overall tone of the rescored piece. Thus the piano creates a sense of greater drama in the opening movement while in succeeding adagio its more limpid qualities are unable to match the singing lyricism of the violin.

As Constable Dogberry wisely observes in Much ado about nothing, however, “comparisons are odorous [sic.]” and this disc is certainly one that is best enjoyed entirely on its own terms. Dejan Lazić has, not surprisingly, the full mastery of the work and the support he receives from Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is wholehearted and exemplary. The separately-tracked audience applause is indicative of the pleasurable surprise and sheer enjoyment that the general listener is likely to derive from this disc.

Let’s give the final thoughts to Dejan Lazić himself: “... Throughout the piece ... my thought [was] to imagine what Brahms would do ... to translate [his] unique musical language into a new setting without losing any of its original musical value and, in addition, to give pianists an equal chance to perform and enjoy this wonderful music the same way violinists do for exactly 130 years now.”

Certainly, on the basis of this highly successful disc, he has succeeded.

Rob Maynard

see also review by James L. Zychowicz










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