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Both of Brahms’s piano concertos are gargantuan works. At nearly fifty minutes in duration, this one lasts longer than any other major Romantic piano concerto by quite some stretch.
And talking of stretch – any soloist wanting to master the piano passages needs to have very wide hands and extremely nimble fingers. The composer begged to differ, however, wryly commenting to a friend that this was simply a ‘tiny, tiny piano concerto’.
Brahms was an absolute master of writing for the piano. He knew the sonorities of the instrument so well. As this expansive, four-movement concerto demonstrates, he was able to blend beauty with fire and tenderness with drama in the most remarkable of ways. From the rich, spacious opening of the first movement, we become immediately aware that Brahms is going to take his time to unveil his musical themes and ideas. The most well-known section – a thrilling, energetic finale – is very much the summit of the piece, the culmination of everything that has come before. To get a real feel for the scale of his Piano Concerto No.2, it is worth giving Brahms fifty minutes of our time. Experience this from start to finish, and be captivated by one of the giants of all Romantic music.
Marc-Andre Hamelin (piano); Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Litton (conductor). Hyperion: CDA 67550.
Illustration: Mark Millington