Joshua Pierce / Paul Freeman

Joshua Pierce plays Brahms & Strauss

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Although his first true symphony did not arrive for another 16 years, Brahms' first piano concerto can easily be considered his first foray into the genre. In fact, the concerto began its life as a symphony before becoming a sonata for two pianos and then a piano quartet and finally a concerto. The scope of the D minor concerto was so vast that it was not immediately well-received, but has since become one of the cornerstones of the repertoire. This MSR classics album features the Brahms concerto at the head of the program, and concludes with Strauss' Burleske for piano and orchestra. Like the Brahms concerto, the Burleske went through some machinations before arriving at its present form, Hans von Bülow having turned its original version away as being unplayable. Despite what the album's liner notes try to assert, the Burleske has not fared as well in modern concert halls as the Brahms concerto. It's 22-minute, multi-section format is a bit nebulous for listeners and lacks the same cohesiveness as the Brahms. Still, these performances by pianist Joshua Pierce are satisfyingly energetic and cast both works in the best possible light. His choices of tempo are bright throughout, and the live performance of the Brahms third movement almost gets away from him in spots, but he manages to hold his audience members at the edge of their seats. Joined by the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra (Brahms) and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra (Strauss) under Paul Freeman, the orchestral backdrops are equally powerful and vigorous, truly exemplifying the rich symphonic nature of the Brahms. MSR's sound quality is a bit flat and echoic, but overall captures the spirit of the live performances.

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