Brahms’s two sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op 120, composed in 1894, were followed only by the four Serious Songs and a set of organ chorale preludes (some of which may have been written at earlier times). His farewell to chamber music was also his farewell gift to the clarinet. The two works recorded here were preceded by the Clarinet Trio in A minor (Op 114) and the great Clarinet Quintet in B minor (Op 115), and all four masterpieces were inspired by the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Orchestra.
The old model for creating a hit classical recording – big-name soloist plus big-name conductor in major repertory work – is not so common anymore, but this live Brahms recording from the Staatskapelle Berlin under Venezuela's Gustavo Dudamel, with Argentine-Israeli-Palestinian-Spanish pianist Daniel Barenboim as soloist, shows that there's life in the concept yet. One could point to the virtues of pianist and conductor separately: it's a rare septuagenarian who can combine power and clear articulation of detail the way Barenboim does, and Dudamel builds a vast sweep in, especially, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15. But it's the way that the two work together that really makes news. Chalk it up to shared South American heritage or to whatever the listener wants, but the way the orchestra and piano define separate spheres and work them together is extraordinary. Again, it is in the Piano Concerto No. 1 and its Beethovenian drama that their mutual understanding is most evident, but there is a sense of great variety powerfully unified throughout.
In 2011 the Berliner Philharmoniker and their musical director Sir Simon Rattle welcomed in the New Year with a gala concert programmed with ‘Dances & Dreams’. Spinetingling and inspiring performances of music by Dvořák, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Brahms are complemented by the extraordinary talent of the multi-awarded Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin. Kissin’s musicality, the depth and poetic quality of his interpretations, and his extraordinary virtuosity have placed him at the forefront of today’s pianists, and his passionate performance of the renowned Piano Concerto in A minor by Edvard Grieg is mesmerizing.
"Although the U.S.S.R.'s system of identifying and training musically talented youngsters produced amazingly precocious pianists on a regular basis, Evgeny Kissin stood out from the rest for a talent far surpassing that of the usual Wunderkind. He has become, seemingly without difficulty, one of the finest adult pianists on the world's concert stages…"
The centerpiece of this CD is Brahms' Sonata, Opus 5, which he composed when he was 20 years old. At 38 minutes, it is a grand, expansive, five-movement work, practically symphonic in its complexity and format. Kissin's virtuosity is astounding–he can thunder or whisper–and his sense of line, melody, and mood are impeccable. His joy at playing the piano and just plain music-making is something to behold. Two pieces from Op. 76 (composed 22 years after the sonata) express a folksy flavor and sentimental yearning, respectively, and the five brief Hungarian Dances (transcribed for piano by the composer from his orchestral works) are perfect encores–energetic and easy to grasp. This is a glorious disc, a must for lovers of great pianism, and another feather in Kissin's already impressive cap.