Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 1

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JOHANNES BRAHMS - Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 - Hardy Rittner (Piano) - Werner Ehrhardt (Conductor) - l'arte del mondo - Hybrid SACD - 760623169965 - Released: September 2011 - MDG 9041699

Close your eyes and let your imagination transport you back in time to the year 1859. You are in Hanover, Germany, sitting in a packed concert hall illuminated by hundreds of candles, awaiting to hear the premičre performance of a new Piano Concerto by a young firebrand composer named Johannes Brahms. The piano part is to be performed by the composer himself, at the time considered to be a master of the keyboard. Except for a few rumours floating around that Robert Schumann had held this young composer in high esteem, you have absolutely no idea of what calibre the evening's music will be, and therefore don't expect much. That is until you hear the opening ....

Don't you wish you could have been there just to see the expression on everybody's face, to see the jaws dropping, upon hearing for the first time the dramatic opening lines of this Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15. Their amazement, or perhaps discomfort, at the varying levels of expressive power in the first movement. Their transfixed attention at the profoundly solemn beauty of the Adagio movement, and their disbelief at the technical demands of the finale. That really must have been the musical event of the year. An event that must have spread the composer's reputation across Europe like wildfire.

This 'live' recording may just grant you that opportunity. Pianist Hardy Rittner, who has already released very fine recordings of the music for piano solo by Brahms using various period instruments, opted for an 1854 Erard Grand Piano this time around, and an excellent choice it has proven to be. Brahms himself played on some and actually, because of their brilliance and clarity, favored them over others for certain of his works. And the fact that the instrument used in this recording would have been five years old at the time of this concerto's premičre, would indicate that this is the type of sound that Brahms was writing for. Add to this the fact that the l'arte del mondo orchestra, a group founded in 2004 by conductor Werner Ehrhardt, previously artistic director of the Concerto Köln chamber orchestra, perform works using historical practice. On this recording for example, they use original instruments, or copies of instruments from the time of Brahms, including wooden flutes, gut strings and natural horns. All of this lends the music a more natural, a more colorful sound and a warmer tone. The textures are better defined, and the balance of power between the orchestra and the piano is much more tangible and of more equal proportions. The nervous energy of this live recording, combined with the impassioned interpretation from both soloist and conductor, make for a gripping account of this impressive piece of music that hasn't aged one bit over its 150 years. In fact, this wonderful new recording, is probably as close a reproduction of that fateful evening of 1859 as you will ever get.

Jean-Yves Duperron - September 2011