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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL CONCERT REVIEW
Brahms: Radu Lupu (pianist), New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi (conductor), Avery Fisher Hall, New York City, 19.1.2011 (SSM)
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
This performance is part of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra's "Rush Hour Concert Series," which features one or two works lasting about an hour and starting at 6:45 PM. The format has proved to be a pleasurable one: the audience need not chomp at the bit towards the end of the concert, racing up the aisles to catch a late train or competing with the exiting audiences from the other Lincoln Center venues for the next available taxi.
Not that it was necessary to extend the applause time for Radu Lupu. Unsmiling, reserved and uncomfortable in front of an audience, he quickly left the stage after one acknowledgement to the house which gave all the players a well deserved ovation. Looking in profile like Brahms himself, Lupu sat bolt upright on a standard chair and seemed to be absorbing the energy around him. The more difficult the music became the more he gained in strength.
Brahms refrained from writing a symphony until he was 43, 18 years after writing this concerto, hesitant to assert himself as the heir to Beethoven's symphonies. Listening to the extended opening, which lasted a good 4 minutes (the 20-minute movement itself more than symphonic in length), one feels that this could be the opening to Brahms Symphony No. 0. Dohnányi conducted this introduction fiercely, drawing sharp, galvanized phrasing from the orchestra. Lupu matched the conductor with a muscular technique that seemed somewhat at odds with his motionless body. Yet when playing quiet sections such as the peaceful, flowing second-movement Adagio, Lupu softened his playing so that the balance in the interludes between the piano and winds were just right.
Lupu's athletic playing returned with the final Rondo, a broad and symphonic movement with an unusual central fugue that seems to nod its head at the fugal sections of Beethoven's Ninth. Brahms also surprises us with a cadenza which normally is the piano's last appearance before the coda but continues here for several minutes to its triumphal conclusion.
Dohnányi has chosen his pianists wisely, Radu Lupu for the First and Yefim Bronfman for an earlier performance of the Second. Both pianists and conductor complement each other in every aspect. All are mature interpreters who need not worry about technique but can concentrate on the details of the music itself.