This last installment in Claudio Abbado's fine Brahms cycle has the same virtues as the previous recordings: excellent playing, fine recording, and an intensely lyrical response to the music that never precludes a healthy dose of energy where required. The high point of the cycle is the Third Symphony, followed by the Second. If you have those and wish to collect the others, they are not far behind in quality and you can buy this disc (and the one with the First Symphony) with complete confidence. The couplings are also very well done. –David Hurwitz
This generous coupling of Brahms’s two concertos for stringed instruments has become relatively common in the age of CD thanks to compilations like the Philips disc of Szeryng and Starker‚ analogue recordings dating from the early 1970s. Modern digital recordings expressly designed for issue in coupling are much rarer‚ the Teldec issue of Kremer and Clemens Hagen being the most notable one.
Bernard Haitink conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brahms’s great orchestral works, including the complete symphonies. The concertos feature three great soloists: pianist Claudio Arrau, violinist Henryk Szeryng, and cellist Janos Starker. "No one, I trust, will deny that Arrau has lived with, wrestled with, and in a truly terribly way ’known’ the D minor Concerto for more years than most of us can consciously recall. Where contemporary pianists have often tended to refine or domesticate the concerto, withdrawing it from the world of heroic endeavour, Arrau has always done the reverse. No pianist, apart possibly from Serkin in his several recordings, has communicated so formidably the work’s scope: its seriousness and its anxious, tragic mood. Often Arrau makes free with the text. But the vision is huge, the technique astonishing. Haitink is a worthy accompanist."
It's a recording that just a few years ago would have been mainstream: a "name" pianist (albeit one much less well known in the U.S. than elsehwere), who has been playing Mozart's piano concertos since childhood, joins forces with a name conductor with whom she has frequently collaborated, leading a modern-instrument orchestra of some 70 players, with the results released on a major international-conglomerate label. Now it's distinctly unusual. But lo, there's value in the old ways. Portuguese-Brazilian pianist Maria-João Pires is a lifelong Mozart specialist, but she still has new things to say in two of Mozart's most popular piano concertos. You can chalk it up to her Buddhist outlook if you like: her readings of the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595, and Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, might be described as detached without being lifeless. Her approach is most startling in the Piano Concerto No. 20, where her no-drama shaping of the material runs sharply counter to type. Sample the piano's entrance in the first movement, where it offers a twisting, tense elaboration of the main theme that is far removed from its source material. Generally pianists use this to raise the tension level, but Pires lets the unusually shaped, chromatic line speak for itself with fine effect.
Julius Katchen performs the composer's work whom he most favored; again, highly-esteemed recordings among classical cognoscenti.