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ClassicsOnline Home » BRAHMS, J.: Piano Concerto No. 2 / SCHUMANN, R.: Introduction and Allegro appassionato (Biret, Polish National Radio Symphony, Wit)
By Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News
"Idil Biret is among the few classical musicians who have made a major reputation by recording on a budget label. Alfred Brendel did it nearly 50 years ago and is now among the grand old men of pianists. Ms. Biret, born in Turkey and trained mostly in Paris, hasn't moved to a more expensive label, as Mr. Brendel did. But critics have taken seriously her complete sets of the piano music of Rachmaninov, Chopin and Brahms. And audiences have bought them in droves.
"Her performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 shows why. She's primarily a poetic performer but with plenty of muscle for when the going gets tough. She has mastered the long Brahms musical line, and she can whip up excitement when she needs too - the titanic scherzo movement, for instance... The bonus performance of Schumann's Introduction and Allegro appasionato is a treat."
By Peter M. Knapp
The Patriot Ledger
"Biret's virtuosity and mature musicianship are on display in another blockbuster, Brahms' Piano Concerto NO.2 on new Naxos CD. Given strong support by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice) led by Antoni Wit, Biret plays this magnificent work with a winning mixture of power and lyricism. With Biret's flying fingers and hot-blooded approach, this appealing work sizzles from start to finish."
Piano Concerto No. 2
in B Flat Major
Allegro appassionato, Op. 92
Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833, the son of a double-bass
player and his much older wife, a seamstress. His childhood was spent in
relative poverty, and his early studies in music, for which he showed a natural
aptitude, developed his talent to such an extent that there was talk of his
touring as a prodigy at the age of eleven. It was Eduard Marxsen who gave him a
firm grounding in the technical basis of composition, while the boy earned a
living for himself by playing the piano in dockside taverns. In 1851 Brahms met
the Hungarian violinist Reményi, who introduced him to Hungarian dance music.
Two years later he set out in his company on his first concert tour, their
journey taking them, on the recommendation of the violinist Joachim, to Weimar,
where Franz Liszt held court, a visit from which Reményi profited, while Brahms
failed to impress the Master. Later in the year Brahms met Schumann, again
through Joachim's agency. The meeting was a fruitful one.
In 1849 Robert Schumann had moved with his pianist wife Clara to
Düsseldorf as director of music, the first official appointment of his career.
In the music of Brahms that he now heard he detected a promise of greatness and
published his views in the journal he had once edited, the Neue Zeitschrift
für Musik, declaring Brahms the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. In the
following year Schumann, who had long suffered from periods of intense
depression, attempted suicide. His final years, until his death in 1856, were
to be spent in an asylum, while Brahms rallied to the support of Clara Schumann
and her young family, remaining a firm friend until her death, shortly before
his own in 1897.
Brahms had always hoped that sooner or later he would be able to return
in triumph to a position of distinction in the musical life of Hamburg. This
ambition was never fulfilled. Instead he settled in Vienna in 1863 and established
himself there, seeming to many to fulfil, as the years went by, Schumann's
prophecy, much to the chagrin of Wagner and his supporters, who saw the
succession to Beethoven in a very different light. Unlike the latter, Brahms
attempted no Gesamtkunstwerk and no amalgamation of the arts, as Liszt
had attempted in his symphonic poems. To his friends Brahms seemed the champion
of pure or abstract music without any extra-musical associations.
'The long terror' was Brahms's description of his second piano concerto,
a massively impressive work completed in 1881 and falling between the second
and third of the four symphonies in order of composition. Brahms had started
work on the concerto in 1878 and finished the score in the summer of 1881,
which he spent happily at Pressbaum, near Vienna. For its first performance in
November 1881, the composer appeared as soloist in Pest, following this, later
in the same month, with performances nearer home with the Meiningen Court
Orchestra under Hans von Bülow, who had espoused the cause of Brahms with the
eagerness and enthusiasm that he had once shown for Wagner, before the latter
eloped with his wife Cosima, illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt.
Brahms played the concerto in various towns with the Meiningen orchestra.
In Vienna, however, where the first performance of the concerto took place in
1884, the critic Eduard Hanslick, a firm friend of Brahms, could only speak
with reserve of the composer's technical ability as a pianist whatever his
admiration for the concerto itself, praising his rhythmic strength and
masculine authority, and remarking that Brahms now had more important things to
do than practise a few hours a day, a kind excuse for any technical
imperfections there might have been in his playing.
The first movement of the B flat major Piano Concerto opens with
a dialogue between the orchestra and soloist, initiated by the French horn. The
orchestra adds a second important element to the thematic material, to be
interrupted by a longish piano solo. On its return the orchestra has a third
item of significance to add, before the piano turns expansively to the opening
melody, as the movement takes its impressive course. The second movement, a
form of scherzo in the key of D minor, is on the same enormous scale. It is
followed by a slow movement, in which a solo cello proposes the first, tranquil
theme, later to be varied by the soloist, before the appearance of other
material, the pianist playing music of simple and limpid beauty above a low
cello F sharp, accompanied by two clarinets. This brief passage of quiet
meditation leads to the return of the first theme from the solo cello and the
end of the movement. The concerto ends with a rondo that happily dispels any
anxieties that might have lurked in the more ominous comers of the preceding
movements, its mood inherited from Mozart and Beethoven, Brahms's great
predecessors in Vienna.
In 1844 the Schumanns moved from Leipzig to the city of Dresden. Robert
Schumann had suffered intermittently from depression, accentuated by the fact
that he had now become the consort of a pianist of considerable fame, his own
rôle a decidedly secondary one during the concert tour of Russia that had
occupied the earlier months of the year. Dresden, where Wagner had recently
become conductor at the opera, was, in spite of this, relatively conservative.
Here Schumann set about the task of teaching his young wife counterpoint, while
he returned to his work as a composer with a certain renewal of energy. The Introduction
and Allegro appassionato for piano, with orchestral accompaniment, was a
product of the eventful year 1849, the period that brought a republican
uprising in Dresden, the hurried departure of Wagner, who had been involved
openly with more extreme factions, and general disturbance, as the unrest was
suppressed with Prussian help. Throughout the months of tumult, during which
the Schumanns had taken refuge outside the city, Robert Schumann continued to
write music, completing the present work during the later part of September, a
month that brought songs and piano pieces. The gentle Introduction to Opus
92 allows orchestral melodies to appear through the evocative piano arpeggios,
first from the clarinet, then from the French horn, before the piano too
assumes a melodic rôle. The Allegro appassionato is dominated by the
opening figure from the orchestra, but largely justifies its descriptive title,
a work for piano with orchestral accompaniment.
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