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Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 – the Piano Opening

April 5, 2010
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(Brahms in 1853)

Just a quick note about what I have been listening to recently.

Before I had only one version of Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15 (1858), performed by Brendel and Abbado with Berliner Philharmoniker (1986). I forgot the reason why I chose this version in my college years.

I started to look for No.1 after listening to Brahms No2, performed by Gilels and Jochum with Berliner Philharmoniker. Despite the critic comments on the structure of this piece, however, I was very moved by the opening of piano in the the first movement. It is followed by the long and heavy orchestra part, about 3-4 minute later.

Recently I listened to the live recording of Gould and Bernstein with New York Philharmonic in 1962. The recording includes Bernstein’s pre-performance remarks (“Don’t be frightened. Mr. Gould is here.”) and an interview with Glenn Gould from a 1964 New York Philharmonic broadcast. It is rather different from Brendel’s, of course. But what got me is the piano opening part. Was it because of the poor sound quality, with so much coughing, that I didn’t find that part beautiful? I listened it again. And went to look for other versions.

Here are some I have for the section of piano opening:

  1. Rubinstein & Reiner (Chicago) 1954
  2. Fleisher & Szell (Cleveland) 1958
  3. Curzon & Szell (LSO) 1962
  4. Gould & Bernstein (NYP) 1962
  5. Brendel & Abbado (Berliner) 1986

(At this moment I don’t have the version by Serkin and Szell with Cleveland Orchestra in 1966. It seems that Szell plays an important role in the recordings of this work.)

After the section compared here, the melody continues, stronger than before, then is joined with the orchestra and evolves into different themes. That melody of the piano opening doesn’t come back until the later part of the movement.

What do you think of them? Which version do you prefer? With only 30 second or so, it’s kind of difficult to tell which interpretation is better, for your taste, especially without the orchestra part. But I do know which ones I like more.

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