Martino Tirimo / Yoel Levi / Simon Rattle / Kurt Sanderling

Brahms: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2; Piano Quartet No. 1 (orch. Schoenberg)

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Given its depth, intricacy, and refinement, it remains surprising that Brahms' First Piano Concerto was his first published orchestral work. Although the three movements went through various machinations before finally ending up as a concerto in their present form, the piece has become a deserved cornerstone of the repertoire. Nearly 30 years later, Brahms, who was rarely given credit for any sort of "innovations" in his music, produced his epic, four-movement Second Piano Concerto. These two masterpieces are heard on this two-disc set performed by pianist Martino Tirimo. The set suffers from some significant issues that make it a less than ideal choice. The first concerto, played with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Kurt Sanderling, is slow and ponderous almost beyond recognition. The first movement, marked Maestoso, is anything but majestic; rather, the orchestral exposition drags on only to be greeted by an equally lackadaisical entrance by the piano. Even the second movement, which is marked Adagio, is virtually stagnant throughout. Not until the Finale does Tirimo introduce forward momentum, but by that point it is too little, too late. Yoel Levi takes the helm of the LPO for the second concerto. Slow and overly deliberate remain the overriding characteristics, but here even the orchestra's sound quality is not exceptional, with the lower range producing an unappealing, boomy sound. The two-disc set concludes with a rather peculiar arrangement of Brahms' G minor Piano Quartet by Arnold Schoenberg, who stated that his reason for arranging the quartet (which certainly needs no arrangement) was that it was rarely played. History has reversed that sentiment, however, and now the quartet in its original form is frequently performed and this obnoxious version is all but forgotten.

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