In February 2013 at the invitation of star conductor Christian Thielemann, the legendary Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini returned after almost 25 years to the Dresden Staatskapelle and gave his first performance at the Dresden Semperoper ever. The celebrated, 70-year-old pianist played Brahmsâ€™ 1st Piano Concerto in D minor, Op. 15.
For those who remember the Abbado/Pollini collaboration from 1999 and the BĂ¶hm/Pollini from the 1980s in that same work, the BĂ¶hm is considered the best in terms of balancing heroic pianism and confessional insight. The new Thielemann collaboration however, displays superior balance and tempi, richness of detail and greater substance in the piano part, often accomplished by PolliniÂ´s dynamically supportive and active left hand structures.
Brahms originally conceived the first piano concerto as his first major work for orchestra, what would have been his first symphony. After that proved unsatisfactory, he began molding it into a sonata for two pianos. Brahms ultimately decided that he had not sufficiently mastered the nuances of orchestral colour to sustain a symphony, and instead relied on his skills as a pianist and composer for the piano to complete the work as a concerto. It was first performed on January 22, 1859, in Hannover, Germany, when Brahms was just 25 years old. Five days later, in Leipzig, an unenthusiastic audience hissed at the concerto, while critics savaged it, labelling it “perfectly unorthodox, banal and horrid”. In a letter to his close personal friend, the renowned violinist Joseph Joachim, Brahms stated, “I am only experimenting and feeling my way”, adding sadly, “all the same, the hissing was rather too much”. Today it is considered one of the finest and most powerful concerto compositions of the Romantic period.
Brahms’ biographers often note that the first sketches for the dramatic opening movement followed quickly on the heels of the 1854 suicide attempt of the composer’s dear friend and mentor, Robert Schumann, an event which caused great anguish for Brahms.
Chandos Records is presently recording the complete Chopin with Louis Lortie, the complete Brahms with Barry Douglas and the complete Haydn and Beethoven sonatas with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. From these ambitious projects we recommend two recent albums which gained critical acclaim.
Louis Lortie plays Chopin
The first is volume 2 in Chandos’ series of solo piano works by Chopin, played by the French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie.
Recording exclusively for Chandos, Lortie is recognised as one of the finest interpreters of Chopin today. He first recorded Chopin’s Etudes for Chandos more than twenty years ago; the disc was named as one of the ‘50 great performances by superlative pianists’ by BBC Music. Volume 1 of his current Chopin series also has received excellent reviews: the magazine Pianist wrote: “He is a pianist of our time when it comes to speed, energy and an unfussy approach to Chopin. His way of playing is like a sharply cut steel sculpture, super elegant and with not one single smudge.”
And in the words of International Piano: “These are full-blooded and eloquent performances, an auspicious start to what looks likely to become one of the finest of Chopin surveys.”
Barry Douglas plays Brahms’ Complete Works for Solo Piano
Barry Douglas’ new Brahms series for Chandos has, rather than grouping pieces in their entire published sets as is the recording norm, instead chosen to mix things up. So, an intermezzo from one book might sit next to a capriccio from another. The series also marks the first major project of the internationally acclaimed pianist as an exclusive Chandos artist.
Since winning the Gold Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow, Douglas has established a major international career, and his reputation as a pianist and conductor continues to grow.
Listen to samples at All Music
“…a typically robust, strongly characterised performance.
“Scrupulous articulation to dynamics give energy and drama to the final cumulative momentum — his cycle will surely be fascinating to follow as it unfolds.”
The piece was discovered by the auction house Doyle of New York City, where the â€śAlbum Amicorum of Arnold Wehnerâ€ť was sold for $158,500 in April last year.
The album belonged to Wehner who was director of music at GĂ¶ttingen in the 1850s and contains musical contributions and quotations from important contemporary composers and musicians including Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Liszt.
Musicologists believe that Brahms wrote this piano piece in Arnold Wehnerâ€™s album in June of 1853, when he and his friend Edouard Remenyi were visiting GĂ¶ttingen.
The theme was also used by Brahms in the Scherzoâ€™s trio section in his trio for piano, violin and French horn, composed 12 years later. The new finding is however not a brief sketch but a finished manuscript of a complete piano piece, clearly written and including performance markings.
Who was first?
The album was catalogued and described in Doyle New York’s sale catalogue of April 20th 2011 with the assistance of Dr. Michael Struck of the Johannes Brahms Gesamtausgabe, Kiel. However, earlier this month BBC claimed that conductor and musicologist Christopher Hogwood discovered the piece and that the world premiere was to be performed by AndrĂˇs Schiff in a broadcast on January 21. Although Hogwood’s discovery appeared to be slightly misleading and the piece had already been publicly performed, the short video by BBC including an interesting discussion and samples of Schiffâ€™s masterful performance is well worth watching: BBC Radio 3: AndrĂˇs Schiff plays a lost work by Johannes Brahms
The new edition
A scanned copy of the manuscript has been online on Doyle New York as part of their April 2011 catalog, a transcription of it appeared on IMSLP this week and the piece will be included in BĂ¤renreiterâ€™s new edition of Brahms’ Horn Trio to be released in February.
Piano Streetâ€™s new urtext score may very well be the first officially published edition of this wonderful little piece. Regardless, we are happy to share it with the piano playing world for free to play and enjoy!
Two of Johannes Brahms’ most popular late piano pieces are now available as Urtext scores from Piano Street’s sheet music library. Recordings, of the two pieces performed by Henrik Sandback, have also been added.
The three Intermezzi Op. 117 are probably the most well-known and best-loved of Brahmsâ€™s late piano pieces.
The composer described these pieces, all three of which are marked Andante, â€ślullabies to my sorrowsâ€ť.Â They were inspired by a Scottish poem from HerderÂ´s Volkslieder, Lady Anne Bothwellâ€™s Lament, and bear this inscription:
Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und SchĂ¶n!/Mich dauertÂ´s sehr, dich weinen sehn. (Sleep softly my child, sleep softly and well!/It hurts my heart to see you weeping.)
The second piece of Op. 118 is one of Brahmsâ€™s most beloved creations, a deeply lyrical and moving nocturne. The opus, consisting of six pieces, were sent as a gift to Clara Schumann immediately upon their completion. Brahms’ biographer Jan Swafford has surmised: â€śhe may have composed the pieces to try and keep Clara Schumann going in body and soul. Since she could only play a few minutes at a time now, and because she loved these miniatures so deeply, maybe they did keep her alive.â€ť
Between 1981 and 1984 Leonard Bernstein recorded nearly all of BrahmsÂ´s orchestral works with the Wiener Philharmoniker to honor the 150th anniversary of the composerÂ´s birth in 1983. As an example of the unique Zimerman/Bernstein collaboration, hereÂ´s the second movement of the second Piano Concerto in B flat major Op. 83:
Victory in a significant competition does not always guarantee a blooming professional career. In fact, as the number of competitions constantly expands, instances of this are becoming increasingly rare. Publicly expressing his reluctance to piano competitions and the increasing standardisation of the performer ideals, Krystian Zimerman’s actions are deeply thought out and carefully planned. As a result, they are fewer and farther between. Zimerman generally avoids the limelight, limits the number of live performances he gives and records relatively infrequently. As a result, each artistic endeavor he decides upon is awaited eagerly and closely watched. On April 27, Zimerman created a furor in his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles when he announced this would be his last performance in America because of the nation’s military policies overseas:
Playing the Sonatas in a cycle is the pianistic equivalent of reading Shakespeare, Plato, or Dante, and for the performer, it offers the chance to get right to the heart of the music, peeling back the layers on a continuous journey of discovery, always finding something new behind the familiar. Read more at interlude.hk
New Book: The Van Cliburn Story
'One of the judges, the pianist Emil Gilels, went to the culture minister, who went to Khrushchev, who did not interfere. If the young American is the best, he said, go right ahead, give him the prize'. Read more at nytimes.com
He's Got a Little Liszt
Striving to succeed at the Ferenc competition, each participant gave his or her all in a quest for victory. The judges awarded the top prize to Tomoki Sakata on the 205th anniversary of Liszt's birth and the 130th of his death. Read more at enca.com
Visual Media as Audio Media
Nearly 60 years ago, John Cage experimented with the piano by sticking things into it. In the 21st century, Daniel Watkins experiments further by taking computerized data from compiled photographs, morphing it into audio data, and creating pieces for piano using a notation program. After that, he transfers what he's created onto cassette instead of digitizing it, which he maintains makes his music into sculpture. Read more at vice.com
Master and Pupil
Haydn taught Beethoven and promptly tossed him from his studio because of his recalcitrant attitude. Before he went deaf, Beethoven taught Czerny. Finally, Czerny taught Liszt. Liszt, therefore, 'studied with Beethoven', so to speak. Pianists today have tracing their teachers' pasts to see with whom they 'studied'. Melvyn Tan strives to capture some of the magic of the past and learn new lessons from it thus continuing the tradition. Read more at gramophone.co.uk
After the Win
Many up-and-coming pianists hone their skills looking to win a prestigious international competition. For most, that is only a dream. For Seong-Jin Cho, however, it's merely water under the bridge. After winning the Chopin Competition, he hung up his competitive cleats to concentrate on concertizing and recording. He's happier now than he's ever been. Read more at griegcompetition.com
Adding Something Different
When you think of the lists of finalists at the world's piano competitions, several images come to mind: hunched young people with names you cannot pronounce and of whom you've never heard, equally hunched Americans who are trying to make their mark, and all manner of other competitors from the bold to the eccentric. What you don't see is a dentist, but Timothy Chang, who relies on his charming and forthright personality to speak to audiences, is looking to change that perception. Read more at abc.net.au
Tough to Be Original
Few opening chords are as instantly recognizable as the descending eighth notes in the brass at the beginning of Tchaikovsky's B-flat Minor piano concerto. That is, however, the distinct problem in performing this piece. There are more than 200 available recordings, and everyone not only knows the work but also has his or her own interpretation of how it 'should' go. There are even revisionists who change the opening to sound more like Chopin than Tchaikovsky. Read more at gramophone.co.uk