Garrick Ohlsson / Tadaaki Otaka / Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Brahms: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

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There's nothing revelatory in this live recording of Brahms' two piano concertos by an American pianist, Japanese conductor, and Australian orchestra. That is, except for the music itself. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson, with an octave-and-a-half reach equal to Brahms' own, has the power for the titanic Beethovenian gestures of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, and for its foot-stomper of a finale, which is as good a place as any for the neophyte classical listener to start. Ohlsson is equally adept in catching the spacious and subtle dimensions of the second concerto, which one Viennese critic termed a symphony with piano obbligato. The unexpected appearance of the piano at the beginning and then its unexpectedly long disappearance are given just the right level of mystery,and Ohlsson is aided by extremely sensitive accompaniment from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Tadaaki Otaka, a conductor usually associated with Japan's NHK Symphony. The entire performance has the electric sense of dialogue that is common to the great concerto renditions and that yields especially large benefits in the case of Brahms. The live sound from Melbourne's Arts Centre (the recording is put together from a pair of performances of each concerto) is impressively clear; most crowd noise is suppressed, but long and enthusiastic applause at the end is retained. The trend toward releases issued by orchestras and other performing ensembles themselves was initially a response to the crackup of the big-time classical recording industry, but with albums like this one, no doubt picked due to the general perception of the enthusiasm and effect of the performance within the Melbourne Symphony organization, it increasingly seems that a necessity has become a virtue.

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