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Brahms composed his first piano concerto in 1858, and premiered the work in Hannover the following year.
Although nowadays Brahms is often remembered for his full-blooded, large-scale works, at the time of writing his Piano Concerto No.1 in 1858, he was a very different composer. Brahms’s comfort zone was music for solo piano. Indeed, it was the music that book-ended his life. And this particular work was his very first creation for the instrument on a more epic scale. Never before had Brahms composed something with such depth, orchestration and duration.
It’s not surprising, then, that his Piano Concerto No. 1 was written over a full four-year period. The composer was clearly at pains to ensure its premiere was a success – not least because he was already known as something of a piano expert. Brahms no doubt feared accusations of an inability to transfer his chamber-music success into this altogether grander form.
Sadly for Brahms, his worst fears were realised. The piece was dismissed by those in the know and, in its day, it was never held in such high esteem as other Romantic piano war-horses of the period. Now, however, it’s a very different story: this is one of the best-loved and most frequently performed piano concertos in the world.
Nicholas Angelich (piano); Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra; Paavo Järvi (conductor). Virgin Classics: 50999 5189982.
Illustration: Mark Millington