Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Brahms - Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat

The 2nd piano concerto by Johannes Brahms stands in marked contrast to his first piano concerto, written 22 years previously, not least of all because while the first piano concerto was not received very well (it had even been hissed at some of the first performances) the second was an immediate success.

The 2nd sees the inclusion of a Scherzo as the second movement of the work, making it a four-movement concerto. The writing for the piano does not have the outward glitter of a virtuoso work. There are no crowd pleasing slap-dash runs up and down the keyboard. The difficulties of this concerto are not obvious to the casual listener, as they are a matter of musical texture and interpretation.  The interplay of piano and orchestra, plus the addition of the 2nd movement scherzo make this concerto related to the Concerto Symphoniques of Henri Litolff in form, if not in substance.

Brahms sarcasm and self-deprecating sense of humor caused him to call the huge work (one of the longest concertos in the repertoire) "some little piano pieces" and the dramatic scherzo "a little wisp of a scherzo."  Brahms completed work on the concerto in early 1881 and was the soloist in the premiere later that year in Budapest and went on to play it in many major cities of Europe.

The concerto is thoroughly saturated with the mature Brahms style, with a complex first movement, dramatic scherzo, warm and lyrical third movement and a finale that is as unique as the rest of the concerto. It takes a virtuoso pianist who also happens to be a sensitive musician, as well as a top-notch orchestra, to play the piece as Brahms intended.

I. Allegro non troppo -

II. Allegro appassionato -

III. Andante -

IV. Allegretto grazioso -

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