Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Brahms – Early Piano Music

The 2nd Piano Sonata Op. 2. (1853)

Brahms is 20 and it's the year he meets and moves in with the Schumanns. We've already heard his First Piano Sonata, where we indicated that the piece was essentially a symphony for solo piano. This piece is no different. It's far more demanding than the first one even though Brahms claimed to have written this one first. He thought the C Major the better composition.

To say that Evisina gets Brahms would an understatement. You get to hear things in this music that rarely get out because most do not play it as a symphony. It was this symphonic quality that impressed everybody about Brahms. They kept pestering him to write one and actually as we shall see, he wrote many before his Op. 68. They were just written for piano and fewer instruments.

And so, published on Jul 29, 2013, here is  
Johannes Brahms Piano Sonata #2 in f# minor  Op. 2
Performed by Anastasiya Evsina 
Minato Mirai Recital Hall, July 25, 2013

[5/27/16: This performance by Hélène Grimaud must be considered as well.]

Scherzo Op. 4 (1851) 

Brahms is 18 and he had it all together by then. This is his earliest piano piece with an Opus number. It is and isn't influenced by Chopin. It has more of an extended rondo form. Again, the symphonic interpretations are by far the best. Here's an example of one of the best I've ever heard.

So, published on Dec 2, 2013, here is
Johannes Brahms Scherzo Op. 4 in e flat minor  (1851) 
Boris Petrushansky 
Live from the recital made in Small Hall
of Moscow Conservatory - 9 January 2013

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Great Symphonic Arch: Beethoven to Brahms

The age between the close of the Napoleonic Wars and the death of Queen Victoria – from 1815 to 1901, a span of 86 years, saw the coming and going of many now justly famous great composers. This was the high alpine to Himalayan heights of Western classical music, exemplified in the works for symphony orchestra; an assemblage of instruments and people that can range from perhaps 35, all the way to well over 100, and in later cases up to a thousand people on one stage!

We begin by listing when certain prominent symphonies were actually premiered as from thence came their influence on subsequent audiences and composers.

Beethoven Symphony #9 Op. 125 “Choral” was completed and first heard in Vienna in 1824 and Beethoven had but three more years to live. Franz Schubert was perhaps in the audience and was certainly inspired as that same year he began what would be his ninth symphony termed “The Great” and completed the following year. The 15 year old Felix Mendelssohn wrote his first symphony in this same year that Beethoven's last symphony was premiered. 

Though Schubert may have heard parts of his last symphony played during his lifetime, it wasn't until 1838 that as wikipedia has it, “In 1838, ten years after Schubert's death, Robert Schumann visited Vienna and was shown the manuscript of the symphony at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde [Society for the Friends of Music] by Ferdinand Schubert. He took a copy that Ferdinand had given him back to Leipzig where the entire work was performed publicly for the first time by Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 21 March 1839. Schumann celebrated the event in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik [New Music Newspaper] with an ecstatic article in which, in a phrase destined to become famous, he hailed the symphony for its 'heavenly length'.” Well, in 1839 Schumann and Chopin were both 29, Mendelssohn, a couple years older, Liszt a year younger and Brahms was a 6 year old boy.

Nine years earlier, in 1830, when Chopin and Schumann were both 20, Hector Berlioz had produced and premiered his Symphonie fantastique: Épisode de la vie d'un artiste ... en cinq parties Op. 14, a deliberately programmatic symphony and it had then and still does have its admirers. Liszt was one of its earliest proponents. That same year saw the appearance of what would eventually become Mendelssohn's 5th “Reformation,” a work that was not as well known or performed as it is today. Mendelssohn had had to wait to get it performed and then a few years later regarded it as “'a piece of juvenilia,' and perhaps he was being polite. 

Beethoven's 9th Choral: Mendelssohn's 1st – 1824
Berlioz Symphonie fantastique – 1830
Mendelssohn's 5th Reformation - 1832
Mendelssohn's 4th Italian – 1833 – Brahms' birth year.
Schubert's 9th The Great – 1839
Schumann's 1st - 1841
Mendelssohn's 3rd Scottish [last] - 1842 
Schumann's 2nd – 1846
Schumann's 3rd Rhenish – 1850
Schumann's 4th - 1851

Mendelssohn was active, writing symphonies and touring Europe during the late 1830' and early 1840's. His Lobgesang or Hymn of Praise was an oratorio a good deal longer than any of his other symphonies and became known as his 2nd symphony. But it didn't have wide reception, while his 4th, “Italian” has never been out of the repertoire and I regard that work as his best ever. Between 1829 and 1842 he was working on his last symphony, the “Scottish” now given the designation as his 3rd symphony, though it was the last one he wrote.

Then between 1841 and 1851, all Schumann's symphonies were written and premiered. Brahms was to enter the Schumann family in 1853, the same year Steinway & Sons opened in New York. Robert died three years later and Brahms and Clara (who was 14 years older) passed the remainder of their lives as poet and muse, she dying a year before him.

While these symphonies were presented to the public by the great masters, there were a dozen or so other composers writing symphonies, some we have encountered already by the Swedish composer, Franz Berwald. If you are not familiar with the music mentioned so far, just cut and paste them into your browser and see whose performances come up. Believe it or not, I am more and more of the opinion that some of the modern performances are truly better than anything in the past, as good as they were. There is surprising talent springing forth from all over the world now and their performances extend the literature and the interpretations of these masterpieces giving them sufficient grounding in the present to carry the day or hold their own. It's not enough now just to play the music well, you have to make it real now and in most cases with all of the music mentioned here, with the right talent, the best yet is possible. There has never been the best performance of Beethoven's 9th as each performance, especially live, is its own opportunity for greatness. That's the case with all of these works. Enjoy.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Brahms' Piano Sonata Op. 1

We are going to assert from the outset that the musical artist and personality that was essentially the same throughout his life was fully formed by the time he was 20 when this piece was published. Of course it has predecessors in the works of Beethoven and Schumann, but Brahms has at the beginning of his composition cycle written essentially a symphony for solo piano and it should damn well better be played that way too. LOL!

The beginning of this symphony, a straight sonata-allegro form traceable in like form all the way back to Papa Haydn, must be played slow enough to meld all the voices and establish certain spaces, atmospheres, in the music as it is played, but fast enough to propel itself through time and space. There are many ways to play it and there have been those who played it in strict tempo. Increasingly we are left cold by such performances that do not comprehend the dimensions of this piece and its intense emotional grammar. 

We'd begin with the performance by Grigory Sokolov, which to put it mildly, if you know this piece, you should be properly astounded. Consider that after all Brahms was out of Schumann and a contemporary of all the famous composers of the mid to late 19th century. His musical conception, mid century, the exact same year Steinway & Sons set up shop in America, was and is symphonic and the pianos of the age were getting better all the time.

The heart and soul of the mid nineteenth century musical culture centred on being able to deliver orchestra like sounds via a few musical instruments; chamber music in the best circles and always solo pianism. They did not have radio or television back then and believe it or not, the ability to read music was considered part of any real education. Of course some did and some couldn't and so on. Pianism has been that way too from the very beginning; a personal and hence reclusive kind of thing. Piano music is the place where pianists go to recover from contact with the rest of the world. I'd be fairly certain Brahms felt that way too. Sokolov is really quite astounding; we'd say in the parlance; he clearly gets Brahms!

Johannes Brahms Piano Sonata #1 in C Major Op. 1
Grigory Sokolov, piano. Recorded live concert.

Sergey Schepkin also plays this piece rather well. About the first thing I noticed was that he didn't take the tempo strictly through the first movement. The rest of the piece followed nicely. He also understands the intensity and the symphonic nature of Brahms well.

Johannes Brahms Piano Sonata #1 in C Major Op. 1
Sergey Schepkin, piano.

Finally we present a picture from this time or perhaps slightly earlier, of Brahms striking a particularly Masonic pose. We have evidence of Verdi's and Liszt's possible involvement with Masonry, but of Brahms it says this:

“Brahms is listed in many books and publications as a Mason. Although Brahms did compose several pieces of Masonic music, there is no evidence that he ever joined the fraternity. Brahms lived much of his life in Vienna and Freemasonry was illegal there during Brahms life. This information was obtained thanks to support from the German National Masonic Museum.”
For my own reasons, I have always preferred to think of Brahms as behaving very much as I would have done; never a joiner be. I can't imagine Brahms consenting to participate in such things as Masonic rituals, etc. It would compromise something fundamentally individualist in his outlook, something that frequently shines forth through his music. However, I can just as easily see anyone joining such an organization to seek a network for one's work. Again, somehow given the times and the competition, there was always and from the beginning a certain quality of output that Brahms would ever insist upon; he was going to deliver to the world nothing but his truest and best, always. After all, the rest was burned at his own hands. It didn't make the cut. 

In succeeding episodes, we're going after a review of Brahms works from Op. 2 through Op 67, right before his first symphony. We're going to look at Brahms work in relation to those who immediately preceded him and those that followed him. The last half of the 19th century and into the early 20th century was the Himalaya period for Western music, a time that was unique and will probably never come again. It was Brahms perhaps more than any other that typified and exemplified much that was best and brightest n this age. 

András Schiff plays a lost work by Johannes Brahms

Brahms in 1853 at age 20

Friday, May 6, 2016

Brahms' Violin Concerto & Double Concerto

Of course, I intend everyone to understand that I hold all the work of Brahms in very high regard. If you are a composer you can imagine how this music makes me feel: I never tire of hearing it. But it's like the very best chocolate or the very best of anything in life. There's a season for it and sometimes too much of it spoils your appetite for lesser things. But while we're at it, we're going to make sure all our readers know this music too. There's nothing else quite like it!

The violin concerto, written in 1878 when Brahms was 45, is quite simply the best one there ever was. Beethoven's is certainly great, but this is of surpassing beauty of another magnitude. It has real steel and emotional depth. I grew up listening to Jascha Heifitz and René-Charles "Zino" Francescatti play it. It would have seemed hard to find a violinist that could cut it, but I did. He plays a rarely heard (maybe his own) first movement cadenza too. Brahms would actually have approved!

Published on May 9, 2015, from a concert of the Verbier Festival, Switzerland – July, 2012

Maxim Vengerov, Violin
Jaap van Zweden, Conductor
Verbier Festival Orchestra

Brahms also wrote another concerto for violin and cello. This also ranks right up there with his other masterpieces and it was the last piece he wrote for orchestra when he was 54. I'd heard all the great violin and cello duos do this, could there be a modern rendition of this work that gets it? Well, what do you know ...

Published on Jun 26, 2014

Renaud Capuçon, violin
Gautier Capuçon, cello
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Myung-Whun Chung, conductor
From the London Proms 2011


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Symphonies of Johannes Brahms

In our previous post, we gave you links to two great recent performances of the Brahms piano concertos featuring Hélène Grimaud. These concerti are both thoroughly established repertoire pieces and any pianist that can play them has done the equivalent of scaling Everest in terms of pianism. Now, we'll turn to the symphonies. 

Emphasizing the best of the latest performances of these works might extend back into the recordings of the 1990's. We always hope to hear more Brahms. Is it any wonder that these four symphonies rank as among the works most people would like to hear in a regular symphony concert? It used to be fashionable to double some parts in these works. It did produce a great big sound of course. But what of the intricacies within the homophonies (the chords sounded together) through the orchestra? Brahms created shades of emotional meaning and resonance by subtle shadings through changing chord progressions, what later became known as tone painting by people who came after him.

I've often thought of the four symphonies as the seasons of a year, the 1st being spring, the 2nd summer, the 3rd autumn and the 4th winter. Living in a place that actually has four distinct seasons enables me to feel the association more.

The First Symphony in c minor Op. 68 
(1876 Brahms is 43) “Spring”

Is there anything in music quite like the opening of this symphony? It's iconic Brahms. It starts from nothing and is a relentless march that one apparently joined in midstream, while it was going on; it was a march in progress before you got there. The music just starts and it doesn't stop. The drum beat relentless and like a heartbeat too and a vast theme rises above it. Then the primary thematic material is difficult, turbulent, combative with some kind of causal projection forward, thrusting, energetic and moody. Then the pastoral second theme and what follows, all according to brilliantly executed classical sonata-allegro form.

I've chosen a performance from 2014. It's lighter and more sweetly lyrical than most performances. The conductor keeps a slightly faster and lighter tempo through the first movement. It flows gracefully. There are obvious references to Beethoven of course and wisps of the theme that that started it all. Although the orchestral writing all has objective predecessors in the works of Beethoven and of the symphonists that followed him, Brahms is for his time a strikingly original voice. His lyrical gift is in its terseness. His lines are broad and long but they are each made up of smaller fragments concatenated together to form unique thematic forms. I just love, Brahms.

The second movement is prosaic and expansive by turns. It owes something to Robert Schumann (as did the first piano concerto). Played by a lighter complement, this music sounds really classical, as if indeed this indeed was Beethoven's tenth symphony. Inspiration though similar, Brahms is extending the power of string sound and giving it emotional edge. It's much better to be played at or near exact tempo because this music has delightful pulse which is often lost.

The third movement is urban Brahms. Almost as if capturing some of the spirit of the places he had been, where the music itself was composed, but certainly also venues suggested. It's all wise and whimsical, urbane and pretty and all that's in between and it ends quietly and without flourish.

The finale, also iconic Brahms, often associated with events connected with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and Easter, here rendered splendidly. You can hear every line in the orchestral tapestry distinctly. The famous horn lines, all the rest. Who has any doubt that the composer fully intended every note to last and be played long into the future, as long as civilization lasts?

The symphony is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, violin solo, first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Published on Sep 8, 2014, here is
Johannes Brahms Symphony No 1 in c minor, Op 68

Cleveland Orchestra
Franz Welser-Möst, conductor
London Proms 2014

1. Un poco sostenuto - Allegro - Meno allegro
2. Andante sostenuto
3. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
4. Adagio - Più andante - Allegro non troppo, ma con brio

The Second Symphony in D Major Op. 73 
(1877 Brahms is 44) “Summer”

The first movement, as with Beethoven's Eroica, is in three quarter time, it dances. Oh, how it dances! I've always loved this first movement so much. Again, it's pure iconic Brahms. Much suggestion of very warm pleasant weather yet this movement has those famous simulated summer weather events or whatever else your imagination comes up within its development section. The secondary theme the lilting waltz, the third theme begins after a climactic passage and becomes a rising question within a question figure leading to a jesting tumble, all of it original with Brahms. The version I chose, also from 2014 or soon before, repeats the exposition of the first movement, excellent!

The second movement presents one of the longer extenuating themes in classical symphonic music. Is it sad? Brahms thought so. He thought this whole symphony rather sad. Well, it isn't. It's a very strange and strong theme anyway. It's actually a song without words, an art song or even something operatic, the singing done by the low strings and horns. You imagine who with a gleaming baritone voice might issue forth over this glimmering soundscape. This movement contains some real emotional depths too because it is more than a mere aria. This is another full blown sonata -allegro form in . You figure out what the words might be. We each have a song to go with this. One thing for certain about it though, it's about real love as certain as I'm alive. Was it his expression for Clara? Well, it would have been in part and why not? She was his muse after all, let's face it. I sincerely doubt there was anything more to it. And some men have absolutely no idea how powerful an influence women can be to their very artistic drives and you know I really don't care to discuss it beyond that point.

The third movement always strikes me as picturesque of a romp in the country. One takes a coach drawn by some nice horses for a leisurely drive out into the country and perhaps encounters ... a hunt and perhaps a bit more too. I really like the way the conductor took advantage of all the lyrical possibilities.

The finale is a sonata in form and usually the fastest movement in all Brahms. Most groups attempt to play it at break neck speed. It may be overdone in cases. This group turns out a splendid pace. The lighter complement helps tremendously and you can hear all the parts easier. The woodwind playing throughout is splendid but in this movement we have a few real standout places. The conductor doesn't try to speed it up too much. His rendition is very clear.

This symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings.

Published on Oct 24, 2014, here is
Johannes Brahms Symphony No 2 in D Major, Op 73 

Staatskapelle Dresden
Christian Thielemann, conductor

1. Allegro non troppo
2. Adagio non troppo
3. Allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino)
4. Allegro con spirito

We have another important performance for your consideration here. This one is by Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Carlos Kleiber from 1991

The Third Symphony in F Major Op. 90 
(1883 Brahms is 50) “Autumn”

This lovely symphony has an opening movement also in three quarter time, that will be fully utilized to dance to, especially in the development. It begins with another iconic Brahms titanic statement of surpassing grandeur as if looking over some vast distance or up into some surpassing alpine vastness. Then there are also references to harvesting, working, family gatherings, the moon itself. This is what romantic symphony music is supposed to do; fire one's imagination. The composer wrote the music, now you supply the story, in your mind. The whole thing is a wonderfully wrought purposeful statement in full accordance with classical sonata-allegro form going back to the first Vienna school masters. There is in much of Brahms threads of not only having experienced great love and affection but also the great longing for it. It's what makes the music as gripping and universal as it has become.

The second movement prosaically walks forth, introduced through the woodwinds, it is soon enlarged, embroidered, all told a kind of tender nobility pervades this music. I have been in the places most likely to imagine such strains; out in the country where I have actually heard this music in my mind, as I have known it for most of my life. It's always a great pleasure to hear it again. It's about life itself somehow, the great and the common, the sublime and the ordinary, the themes posing the endless questions that search beyond present time, sometimes reflecting back into the past and at others just as clearly asking to know the great future far beyond our own time. Brahms was and is absolutely lovely.

The third movement is of course the famous sad waltz, a lament for being alone, but of course it could have as many other meanings as well. This performance just plays the music without any extra sadness and emphasizes the lush chord voicings among the woodwinds, a nice little country dance to contrast with the larger sadder waltz. The chosen version here plays the end of this with great kindness.

The finale is a moody sonata with a few abrupt changes of dynamics and phrasing, a familiar jagged Brahmsian rhythm gives way to an urbane phrase over pizzicato, both Brahms' signature ideas which will influence others who follow him whether they were aware of them or not. The development section pushes the elements to their highest points from which the form naturally carries one home, except in this case there is a coda that extends the symphony producing a profound timeless effect.

We recall that all the orchestral phrasing and voicing is more or less familiar to our ears through their literal steals for use in movie scores, especially for the first half of the 20th century, before the culture and the music died. Changed? No, it died. We have since the end of the 1940's exchanged an adult culture which was serious in every way possible and gave each life a meaning and a dignity within it, for an adolescent or possibly even a savage culture (if one can even call it that). By the time I was a young child and became familiar with classical music, I was strongly advised that it was at that time and henceforth likely to be only “a museum art form” and every means was sought to capture my attention elsewhere.

At his time, it was apparently Brahms intention to pick up where the real classicists had left off and continue their work; music for its own sake in exactly the same sense as virtue is anything that can't help but be good. His symphonies were and are direct descendants of the late Beethoven and Schubert symphonies as well as deriving much from those of Schumann and Mendelssohn. His style perfectly cements romanticism into classical forms and though we consider him before a few of his successors, it's clear that many were on the same path Brahms was on; returning to classical forms while expressing the most romantic passions; real emotions, though their inspiration often came from literature or in the cases of Beethoven and Brahms, and later Bartók, from mere contact with nature. 

These symphonic works would take nationalistic and heroic forms too. In this regard, we would certainly have no difficulty describing Brahms' achievement as in part nationalistic and in particular expressive of German nationalism. During Brahms' lifetime Germany became a unified country. Though it is known that Brahms harboured some patriotic feeling concerning a unified Germany, he nevertheless preferred living in the Austria-Hungarian empire and in Vienna and so it is with Brahms that the “second Vienna school” of composition begins.

This symphony is scored for for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, a contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.

And so, published on May 25, 2012, here is
Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 3 in F Major Op. 90 

the Orchestra of the University of Music FRANZ LISZT Weimar
in the Neue Weimarhalle on May 10th. [2012]
Conductor: Professor Nicolás Pasquet

1. Allegro con brio
2. Andante
3. Poco allegretto
4. Allegro – Un poco sostenuto

The Fourth Symphony in e minor Op. 98 
(1884 Brahms is 51) “Winter”

This symphony begins with one of the most hauntingly beautiful melodies in all symphonic literature. The impression is certainly cool to cold, and darker, all impressively constructed as usual. Monumental and immortal by design, Brahms foreshadows the eerie atonality to come in his occasional quite spooky flights into some other obscurely chosen tonal direction. You hear places where the sun breaks out, the brightest days are often in winter, but there is the pervading reality. This is a stunning movement.

The second movement is another monumental piece of tremendous gravitas as it glides and ambles by turns. There are melodic lines of surpassing beauty in this movement. The third is a big triumphant march like dance with a beautiful contrasting bucolic trio.

The last movement is a Passacaglia in form, one of the most famous and most tragic sounding in all music. There is no happy ending here.

The symphony is scored for two flutes (one doubling on piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, triangle (third movement only), and strings.

This would seem to be the most often played of the Brahms symphonies based on the number of recordings available on YouTube. I chose a performance from 2001 in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Uploaded on Jan 7, 2012, here is  
Johannes Brahms Symphony #4 in e minor Op.98 

The Gustav Mahler [Youth Orchestra] Jugendorchester (GMJO) 
Luzern (Lucerne), die Schweiz (Suisse) [Switzerland]
Conducted by Mariss Jansons.

1. Allegro non troppo
2. Andante moderato
3. Allegro giocoso
4. Allegro energico e passionato

If that wasn't perfect, and it was, well, you might consider this performance from 2014, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Bernard Haitink, conductor
from the London Proms [Albert Hall] London.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Music of the Great Composers - Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms 1833-1897
Born six years after the death of Beethoven, five years after the premature death of Schubert, 23 years younger than Chopin or Schumann, one could never have imagined that Brahms was ever young or ever a child. There was never anything remotely childlike or young about him. He was a naturally gifted musician with remarkable hearing, memory, reasonable pianistic capabilities owing to large hands. His compositions are monumental and prosaic by turns, but never impersonal. In fact Brahms is among the most deeply personal of all composers; he either grabs you unforgettably or he doesn't impress at all because for those who don't see him, like him or appreciate his contributions, they seem to prefer that music itself perform some more socially mundane function.

I count myself among those who have always liked Brahms, in fact I have said to any and all who ever asked, “who's your favourite composer,” it would certainly be Brahms. Why? Because Brahms is suitably deep for one thing. If you're anything like me and have little to do with pop music or anything that's here today and gone tomorrow, then you'll appreciate that some music is like landmarks; when you get to them, you know you've seen something or been somewhere. One cannot easily explain what it is about certain pieces by Brahms that are indelible and unforgeable. And I don't know that I have heard all of it; the over 200 art songs he wrote are largely a mystery to me.

I decided that a documentary would perhaps fill out more details and after viewing a few of them, I chose this one: Whole Notes - JOHANNES BRAHMS

It's true, I have had at various times had a keen personal identification with Brahms. Now, it seems incredible to me, I have attained an age beyond that of Beethoven and Brahms and perhaps soon of Bach as well. What I could say is that were one serious about music to the exclusion of everything else in the world, one would be hard pressed to beat sole devotion to the pianistic works of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. I don't happen to play much Brahms. I'd rather hear others play him and I look for that fidelity to intention, precision and conviction that the music demands.

One aspect that marks Brahms apart from any that came before him and those who would follow him is that within his work are as many deep searching probably ineffable questions concerning man and nature, these quests often take the music higher and higher into realms that could be the abode of ... gods and angels? One's imagination is apt to draw castles in the sky above impossible grandeur in some bigger than life natural setting like Yosemite or Berchtesgaden.

We have said before that Romanticism as an artistic movement derived from fiction but was not about fiction but about expressing real emotions. In Brahms these emotions are apt to be given immortal status, even where the intent is to preserve some catchy idea from gypsy or Hungarian sources. We also know Brahms liked to take short trips and why not settle in Vienna if one could get down to Hungary or Italy once in a while as Brahms did.

Over the next few months, we will be getting into the sparse but rich music of Brahms. We're going to try and find the best current performances of his music. I think to kick it off, we'll have to start with this performance of Brahms' first piano concerto.

Here it is played by a pianist who claims that Brahms wrote the piece for her. You'd have to think that if you ever intend to make Brahms your own.

Piano Concerto #1 in d minor Op. 15
Hélène Grimaud piano,
the Southwest Radio Symphony Orchestra 
of Baden-Baden and Freiburg
Michael Gielen, conducting.

Brahms, age 20 in 1853
Well then, for the real lovers of Brahms out there, here the same pianist plays (what a performance!): 

Piano Concerto #2 in B flat Op. 83
Hélène Grimaud piano,  
NHK Symphony Orchestra 
David Zinman, conducting.