Elisha Abas / Yoel Gamzou

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1

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This recording is quite a curiosity, and who knows, generations to come may regard it as a hard-to-find gem; it likely has not been produced in large quantities. The pianist pictured in the graphics, smoking a cigar on Havana's Malecón, is not Cuban but Israeli. He became known some years ago as a child prodigy, receiving the seal of approval from none less than Artur Rubinstein, but after receiving physical abuse from a parent among other disincentives, he dropped out and became a minor star of Middle East soccer. In his mid-thirties he made a comeback and has attracted a cadre of fans, some of whom contributed to the making of this recording. The circumstances are a bit mysterious; it's not clear how the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba (enthusiastic and competent, though probably a bit diminished in smoothness from its Soviet satellite days) became involved, nor even where the recording was made. But Abas pretty much is calling the shots here, and what he produces is unlike any other recording of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, you've ever heard. You can dive in pretty much anywhere, but try the opening movement, where Abas careens through startling contrasts, imperious gestures, and generally extreme phrasing. You might object that this isn't Brahms, but rather Liszt experimenting with a slightly more classical approach to form. Yet Abas is clearly a highly charismatic player, and there is absolutely no possibility of boredom here. As noted above, who knows? Worth a try at the very least.

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