Brahms: The Piano Concertos Nos. 1 in D Minor, op. 15 & 2 in B Flat Major, op. 83 Import
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The Philadelphia Inquirer called pianist Rudolf Buchbinder, the Viennese oracle on the core literature of Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms. Buchbinder has over 100 recordings to his credit, including a complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas, the complete Beethoven and Mozart piano concertos and all of Haydn s works for solo piano. This new live recording with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra led by maestro Zubin Mehta finds the pianist on top form in a performance that is bold and dramatic, yet keenly sensitive to timbre and balance.
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Top Customer Reviews
I started off with single discs gotten in remainder bins at a local store, almost accidentally, then I realized I wanted the whole set in super audio. Not too long after that brush with the remainder bins, I came across the complete Beethoven piano concertos. (Again, Paul Freeman leading, this time in a live concert of the Berlin Symphony at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam hall.) Then I came across his Chopin piano concertos, then two volumes of Haydn keyboard concertos, and even a couple of Tchaikovsky concertos (ordered but not yet shipped).
In all this music, Han is not the only possible reading. Yet more often than not, his readings rise high aloft - often joining other keeper discs in comparable repertoire. I haven't tossed out Brendel, Perahia, Uchida, Geza Anda, or Matthias Kirschnereit, so far as complete Mozart concerto sets go. Nor have I stopped listening to singles from Artur Rubinstein, Clifford Curzon, Lili Kraus, Clara Haskil, Robert Casadesus, Rudolf Serkin, Richard Goode, Ivan Moravec, Horowitz, Pollini, Jonathan Biss, John O'Conor, Andras Schiff. Well, how lucky we are to have such riches when it comes to Mozart performance in the piano concertos.
More recently, it is nearly impossible not to delight in Leon Fleischer's Mozart concertos, and in the seemingly ongoing complete series newly arriving (often in SACD) from Christian Zacharias in Lausanne.
That whole context is about Mozart, of course; but also prelude to how well I hear Derek Han doing in these Mendelssohn piano concertos. Now, once upon a time long ago, these Mendelssohn concertos were wildly famous. Played all over the place by anybody who could manage their music. Then, both concertos rather quickly fell into disfavor, hardly every appearing in any concert hall. They began to be viewed in retrospect as too superficial in their song and beauty; too pat in unremarkable form?
Then came a revival of sorts, thanks mainly to recordings. Rudolf Serkin was brave enough to do them in public. Then over time, Murray Perahia, Cyprien Katsaris, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Sergei Edelmann, Ian Hobson, Matthias Kirschnereit, Howard Shelley, and our player at hand, Derek Han.
What does Han offer? His personality and interpretive genius are quite apt for Mendelssohn. His touch is physically warm, fluent, and ever a marvel of tonal clarity. His phrasing is always musically pointed. Han knows where he is playing from, and where he wants to play, to. Ensemble with the band is lively and accurate. Under Gunzenhauser the Israel Chamber Orchestra knows when to be accompanist, when to take center stage in big instrumental gestures, when to spotlight solo playing, and when to let loose with Han romping in the lead.
The first concerto starts with a keyboard flourish. Like the Schumann, Grieg, others ... but surprise, Felix Mendelssohn beat Schumann by about ten years and Grieg by about 37 years. Instead of hearing Mendelssohn in reference to Schumann and Grieg, the original audience would have likely heard Schumann and Grieg in reference to Mendelssohn. Let's get our historical influences in order then.
Han and the conductor and the band appear to be savvy, since their sparkle is brimming with a sense of fresh discovery. When Han drives from one end of the piano keyboard to the other, he sounds lean and athletic and musical, a frolic. When Han floats into those typical Mendelssohn melodies, he is not apologetic or bemused about the shamelessly 'Songs without words' moment. Everybody plays together, and lays out movements as wholes, not endless sequences of virtuoso music passages.
Ditto, the second piano concerto. To fill out this disc, we also get to hear the Capriccio brilliant. What comes across is Mendelssohn, kin to Haydn, Mozart, and another surprise, Schubert. Although everybody in the band does very well, I find myself applauding the woodwinds in particular. Their glow, their phrasing is never lackluster. All players can muster considerable heft and punch without sounding too much like Beethoven. That's a definite plus.
No business as usual, in either of these readings. Yes, you can probably pick another favorite player and get a good reading; and you can also consider adding Derek Han to your list. I'm not usually a terribly eager fan of the Songs without words, but after hearing these concertos done so well, I can suddenly imagine sitting through them, provided Han is the pianist. He would probably be the perfect artists and repertoire choice, among living players.
Don't know Derek Han? Derek Han is a Juilliard graduate of Chinese American legacy, who won both First Prize and the Gold Medal at the Athens International Piano Competition of 1977. Yawn. So what. Each year or two or three brings us a new crop of competition prize winners from somewhere. Each medalist gets the mandatory fifteen minutes of Andy Warhol fame, and then fades into the background blur of having to make a living as a working professional musician.
Except. This Derek Han still has quite a lot to offer. His way with the piano reminds me of famous forebears like Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, and the French pianist, Robert Casadesus. Han's tone is always limpid and absolutely without any hardness or fuzz. A keyboard run always strings together a set of well-matched tonal pearls, fast or slow or in-between. This all sounds so effortless and easy that it cannot in fact be just that effortless and easy. The piano is, as Bartok taught us, as likely to sound like a pitched percussion instrument as not, unless you bend the physical mechanism of it to some other heart or will or musical spirit. By all historical accounts, this ability to make the piano do music, instead of letting music just do the piano - is near to the heart of what actually hearing Mozart or Mendelssohn play might have involved. In that sense Derek Han is a born Mozartian, and to that extent, a very apt Mendelssohn player, too. Think gymnastics, particularly on the rings, not weight lifting. Mr. Han remains lithe and cool-headed and perfectly balanced in each and every musical movement. His sound is ever crystalline and refreshing. Think mineral spring water with natural carbonation.
Fear not. Five stars.