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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 1 [48:45]
Piano Concerto No. 2 [43:56]
Rudolf Buchbinder (piano)
Wiener Philharmoniker/Zubin Mehta
Recorded live at the Musikverein, Vienna, 7-10 March 2015
Picture Format 16:9; PCM Stereo & DTS-HD MA 5.0
Region Code 0
Reviewed in surround
C MAJOR Blu-ray 733604 [96 mins]

This is a marvellous disc, showcasing everybody doing what they do at their best. The booklet says that Buchbinder and Mehta had worked together on the Brahms concertos in Israel, and that they wanted to perform both concertos together in a single evening with Vienna Philharmonic. There are few pianists who could achieve that feat of stamina, but Buchbinder does so triumphantly, and repeatedly shows himself to be a pianist of uncommon muscularity who is right inside these concertos.

That muscularity is most obviously on display in the first concerto (which is here played after the second). He takes on Brahms’ craggy lines like a gladiator in an arena, but without any of the vulgarity that can characterise some of his rivals. Instead, he has the musical line at the front of his vision at all times, and it flows through him, informing all of his musical decisions. He pours balm at his first entrance, for example, but this line keeps flowing through the opening turbulence and then into the chordal second subject which moves along with unfussy beauty. The great Adagio seems to hang still in the air, while he drives the Rondo with a cracking head of steam.

That same sense of power is there in the second concerto, particularly in its scherzo, but the thing that really marks it out is the sense of union between soloist and orchestra. Nobody plays Brahms like the Vienna Philharmonic, and it’s a joy to hear them playing these concertos with appropriate symphonic scale, and yet with a sense of chamber music intimacy, too. Buchbinder himself says that the soloist repeatedly interacts with one orchestral individual in the second concerto, and that’s not just the opening horn soloist, or the cello in the Andante. That sense of give-and-take, of question-and-answer, makes this a really rather special partnership, and it isn’t just in the opening that soloist and orchestra sound as though they’re finishing one another’s sentences.

Mehta directs these works with great skill, and it helps that he is conducting an orchestra of professors. The sound is so brilliantly honed that it’s like a diamond which reflects different facets with new shards of light. It helps, too, that the surround sound is brilliantly captured by the Unitel engineers, the horns sounding from right in the midst of the brass section, for example, and the gloriously rich basses underpinning the lot. The camera work is also very intelligent, and incredibly multi-faceted, a new shot and visual line seeming to appear every so often by surprise. The BD picture quality is outstanding.

The only weak link is the first movement of the first concerto, where the orchestra seems to lumber and Mehta doesn’t quite get to the heart of the sense of momentum that the movement deserves. However, they more than redeem themselves with string playing of Elysian bliss at the start of the Adagio. There are surprisingly few couplings of both Brahms concertos on DVD/BD, and this one takes its place towards the top if that’s what you want. It’s certainly preferable to the recent Cleveland package. There are no extras, save some trailers for other Vienna/Buchbinder releases.

Simon Thompson



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