Piano Concerto No. 2
Maurizio Pollini, piano
Christian Thielemann, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2014
Johannes Brahms wrote his Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat minor (op. 83) from 1878 to 1881. Twenty-two years divided this from the first concert, maybe because Brahms hoped to find another way to express himself in the genre, since the first concert did not realize the Beethovenian ideal of the synthesis of concertante and symphonic elements.
The main feature of the second piano concerto is that Brahms wrote it in four movements (he added the Scherzo) instead of writing it in three movements as usual, making it more similar to a symphony than any other major concerto of the XIX century. Another peculiarity is that the third movement opens with a solo for cello, instrument which develops one of the themes, while the piano is entrusted with the second. This movement is thus similar to a double concert for two instruments.
The concert was dedicated to Brahms’s teacher, Eduard Marxsen, and premiered in Budapest on November 9, 1881, with the composer himself as soloist. It had an immediate success.
I think that this recording of the concert is successful by its own right, even if it is quite different from the interpretations to which Pollini accustomed us in the past years. I do not mean that this is inferior, only that it is different – and inspiring in a different way. The colours Pollini finds are beautiful and surprising, but this time there is something restrained and wise. I had the impression that Pollini depicts here something intimate and that it is not in contrast with the orchestra, but rather it follows its path. The effect is stunning and from the first movement I had the impression to be in a magical world where distension and exquisite taste rule.
No one is better than Christian Thielemann to portray this world and under his direction the Staatkapelle Dresden is sumptuous and the music boundless, as if something is opening in front of you. This is why, even if there are not great passions expressed in this concert, the performance is fabulous. It is a true sound festival with beautiful contrasts, as it happens when the brilliance of the Allegro appassionato is over and the hypnotical quietness of the Andante begins.
I think that what Pollini and Thielemann had tried to give here is an extensive work, where all the feelings must be expressed quietly to emerge with more freedom.