In the notes for this release, pianist Krystian Zimerman has distinctly unkind things to say about his 1983 recording of Brahms' First Concerto, complaining first about the weak piano and then about the muffled recording. About the eccentric conductor -- the incredibly slow Leonard Bernstein -- the idiomatic orchestra -- the unbelievably beautiful Vienna Philharmonic -- or his own sub par playing -- uncharacteristically heavy and unbearably ponderous -- Zimerman is understandably silent. The great speaks for itself and the less said of the less than great, the better.
In this recording, Zimerman corrects most of his previous mistakes. The piano sounds magnificent -- a monster of an instrument fully capable of matching the orchestra fortissimo for fortissimo. The recording is about half magnificent. Patched together from sessions in September 2003 and December 2004, portions of the recording are vivid and portions of the recording are muted and distant. The conducting by the often eccentric Simon Rattle is wholly magnificent, deeply in the tradition but feisty and fiery. The playing by the Berlin Philharmonic is not as idiomatic as the Vienna but it is easily as virtuostic and far more aggressive.
But the big question is: how's Zimerman? He's not uncharacteristically heavy. He's immensely muscular with a blistering technique, a massive tone and complete command of every note in the score. And he's not unbearably ponderous. He's incredibly agile with overwhelming power in the outer Maestoso and Rondo and unbearable concentration in central Adagio. Anyone who knows Zimerman's earlier recording owes it to him to hear this recording. Anyone who loves Brahms' First Concerto, owes it to themselves to hear this recording.