Spanish pianist Joaquin Achucarro performs Brahms' Piano Concerto No 2, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Colin Davis, at St Luke's Hall, London. Also included is a solo performance filmed amongst the paintings of the Goya Gallery at the Prado Museum in Madrid.
These extraordinary performances were recorded live at the Herodes Atticus Odeon in Athens in 2004 and offer the first musical encounter between Daniel Barenboim and Simon Rattle. One-time rivals for the post of principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, they here unite, happy to pay tribute to each other in a performance of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto of an epic grandeur and raw emotional intensity. Barenboim, pianist, conductor and political activist, has clearly reached the pinnacle of a dazzling career (a prophecy of his recent London performances of the complete Beethoven sonatas and concertos) that has ranged from prodigy to the fullest maturity. Caught on this form, few musicians can approach him in stature. Rattle launches the opening tutti with an explosive force, and after an oddly stiff and self-conscious entry (music that Tovey claimed as equal to anything in Bach’s St Matthew Passion) he quickly declares his true status, playing with a dark eloquence and with a breadth and range of inflection that allows him to savour every detail. Rarely can the first movement’s coda have emerged with such frenzied emotion, and here in particularly both Barenboim and Rattle combine to sound like King Lear raging against the universe (“Blow winds and crack your cheeks…”). The second movement, Brahms’s response to Schumann’s attempted suicide, is weighted with an almost unbearable significance and intensity, and in the finale Wolf’s strange dictum, “Brahms cannot exult”, is turned topsy-turvy.
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev has established himself as one of the most dynamic and virtuosic performers of his generation, and his program on this RCA album with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic is ideally suited to his extraordinary abilities. The pairing of Sergey Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor and George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is a natural one, particularly because of the works' shared post-romanticism (note Rachmaninov's influence on Gershwin's slow theme in the Rhapsody), as well as for the dazzling writing for the piano in both works. Of course, the challenge for Matsuev is to make his part appear effortless, and he succeeds so well in both performances that listeners may be a bit blasé about his playing, taking it in without really considering what knuckle-busters these pieces really are.
This grande dame of the piano world, possessed of an extraordinarily modest, charming personality – focused on the music, devoted to deeply understanding it – has performed three times during the Chopin and His Europe Festival at the invitation of The Fryderyk Chopin Institute. The recordings on this album come from her concerts in 2010 (when she performed the Piano Concerto in F minor op. 21 with the Sinfonia Varsovia orchestra under the baton of Christopher Warren-Green) and 2014 (when she performed a recital including, among other items, the Nocturnes presented here). A presentation of – by nature – completely different interpretations, which nonetheless form an extraordinarily coherent artistic whole. Superb creations displaying the most beautiful side of pianistic art.