In 2006, Nicholas Angelich released his first disc of Brahms' solo piano music: a coupling of the ballades, the rhapsodies, and the Paganini Variations. He followed that up in 2007 with a two-disc set containing Brahms' four sets of late piano music. Both releases were simply fabulous. Blazingly virtuosic, deeply expressive, and immensely powerful, these were Brahms' performances to treasure.
Great as they were, however, those releases were merely warmups for this stupendous 2008 recording of Brahms' First Piano Concerto. Fully and gracefully supported by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Järvi, Angelich turns in a performance as compelling as classic recordings by Schnabel, Kempff, and Gilels. He has the muscle -- check out his monumental sonorities in the opening Maestoso -- the poetry -- check out his expressive climaxes in the central Adagio -- and the technique -- check out his racing scales and arpeggios in the closing Rondo. Even better, Angelich has a comprehensive grasp of the whole work. In his hands, the tragic Maestoso, the consoling Adagio, and the triumphant Rondo hold together as a well-wrought three-act drama. As a coupling, Angelich is joined by French pianist Frank Braley for nine of Brahms' Hungarian Dances for piano four-hands. Terrifically virtuosic and tremendously enjoyable, they offer heavenly relaxation after the heavy emotions of the concerto. A co-production with Frankfurt Radio, Virgin's digital sound is clean and close.