There's nothing revelatory in this live recording of Brahms' two piano concertos by an American pianist, Japanese conductor, and Australian orchestra. That is, except for the music itself. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson, with an octave-and-a-half reach equal to Brahms' own, has the power for the titanic Beethovenian gestures of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, and for its foot-stomper of a finale, which is as good a place as any for the neophyte classical listener to start. Ohlsson is equally adept in catching the spacious and subtle dimensions of the second concerto, which one Viennese critic termed a symphony with piano obbligato.
It was an eminently sensible decision to couple Zimerman's previously separate Chopin concertos on a single CD. The Ax/Ormandy/RCA disc is the only rival as a coupling, so let me say at once that in different moods I would be equally happy with either.
Recorded live at the Moscow Conservatory, this is a truly legendary performance. Any experienced veteran could be proud of it; that a boy of 12 should possess the necessary technique, the musical understanding and maturity, and the sustained concentration, is almost beyond belief. Reveling in his own limitless virtuosity, Kissin seems to be playing with as well as on the piano with elfin grace and delicacy; yet his command of the keyboard his warm, singing, powerful, varied tone are only tools for expressing his spontaneous response to the music.
With this two-disc set of the piano quartets, Nicholas Angelich proves conclusively that he is the best Brahms pianist of his generation. His previous Brahms recordings – a 2005 disc of the violin sonatas with Renaud Capuçon, a 2006 solo collection featuring the Paganini Variations, a 2007 solo collection of the late piano works, and a 2008 disc of the First Piano Concerto with Paavo Järvi leading the Frankfurt Radio Symphony – showed his skill in a variety of settings.
Glenn Gould was this century's greatest Bach player, so these legendary recordings are self-recommending. While other fine pianists have made powerful statements in this music, no one sounds anything like Gould. His phenomenal clarity of articulation, digital control, and well, just plain interesting way with the music set him completely apart from the competition. With playing of this individuality and quality, it's pointless to engage in any debate with respect to the appropriateness of the piano versus the harpsichord. Scholars and pedants may continue to argue, but the fact is, it doesn't matter. Great musicianship always serves great music best.-David Hurwitz