Dina Ugorskaja / Peter Gulke / Brandenburger Symphoniker

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 15; Intermezzi Op. 117

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This is hardly an all-star recording of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, but it has a great deal going for it. Start with the engineering from the German audiophile label MDG. Curiously, no location is given, nor do you learn whether the Three Intermezzi, Op. 117, were recorded in a different place (auditory evidence suggests that they were). The mixed-genre program is atypical for MDG, but the detail in both the Concerto and the Intermezzi is beautifully delineated. Dissenters from the positive opinion here might include those who prefer their Brahms on the Beethovenian side, which, to be sure, is the preponderant performance mode. Pianist Dina Ugorskaja and conductor Peter Gülke, leading the venerable Brandenburger Symphoniker, craft a deliberate reading of the Piano Concerto No. 1, with the emphasis in the massive flat sixth in the opening material not on its innate drama, but on its complex implications for the rest of the movement. The first movement weighs in at more than 25 minutes, one of the slower readings around. Ugorskaja's slow movement is intensely lyrical, her finale not so much a toe-tapper as a resolution of long-range tensions in the entire work. In the Three Intermezzi, Ugorskaja traces the complexities of these late works and rewards multiple hearings. This is not Russian Brahms, despite the pianist's origins, but a very German interpretation; intricate and structure minded rather than tumultuous. Highly recommended for those not already convinced there is just one way to play the Brahms 1.

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