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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 [45:09]
Edward Kilenyi (piano)
Orchestre Symphonique RIAS de Berlin/Jonel Perlea
rec. 1955, Berlin

Apart from a couple of CDs on APR and Pearl, there has been a dearth of releases from Edward Kilenyi’s meagre recorded legacy. It is gratifying that Forgotten Records, the French reissue label, is redressing the balance.
The Hungarian-American pianist was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1910. There was music in the family. His father was a violinist, music teacher and noted film composer. Edward travelled to Hungary to study with Ernő Dohnányi at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. Aside from his concertizing, in 1953 he became a professor of music at Florida State University, where a fellow faculty member was none other than his old teacher Dohnányi. Many of Kilenyi’s recordings are held in the International Piano Archives at Maryland (IPAM), part of the University of Maryland Libraries. He died in 2000.
At the helm of this Brahms performance is the Romanian conductor Jonel (or Ionel) Perlea (1900-1970). To my mind he is a very underrated conductor, having made some extremely distinguished opera recordings. Perlea sets the pace of the opening movement of the Brahms in an ideal tempo. It’s very much in the manner of Szell, with precision and rhythmic exactitude. The effect is buoyant, and sprightly, and paves the way for the pianist to enter the fray. Kilenyi’s gleaming virtuosity enables him to negotiate the difficulties and potential pitfalls. His vision of the music is realized to striking effect. Perlea is perfectly attuned to the pianist’s wavelength throughout.
The second movement could be more energized. It’s a little too laid-back and lacking in stamina. In the third movement the solo cello is slightly recessed and distant, thus preventing the listener from savouring its luscious, lyrical opening gesture. Nevertheless, Kilenyi is both ardent and heartfelt. The finale is sunny and extrovert, with both pianist and conductor engaging in an alluringly managed dialogue.
Digitally re-mastered from LP, the source copies are Remington R-199-164 and Bertelsmann 7052. Remington were a low budget label (1950-57), well-known for their products’ considerable surface noise. The Bertelsman label is new to me. The transfers have come up extremely well, and sound quality is more than acceptable. Dynamic range is a tad restricted at times, but much surface noise has been eliminated. The piano is forwardly placed, with the orchestra marginally recessed. This results in some loss of orchestral detail at times, but this in no way detracts from an otherwise captivating performance.
Kilenyi and Perlea also recorded the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 and the Totentanz for Remington with the same orchestral forces. It’s a pity that these were not included here; the spare capacity would have accommodated at least one of them.
Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Brahms piano concerto 2