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Johannes BRAHMS
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor Op. 15
Introduction and Concert Allegro
Idil Biret, Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra - Antoni Wit
recorded 29th to 31st August 1996 in Katowice, Poland.
Naxos 8.554088 [66.15] DDD
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Idil Biret has been making quite a name for herself with her series of recordings for Naxos. Having recorded much of the solo works for piano of Brahms she now tackles the two piano concerti with these Polish forces. This is in addition to her other recordings of Chopin, Rachmaninov, and Boulez.

The Polish National Radio Orchestra under Antoni Wit is a major recording orchestral partnership for Naxos with a number of highly acclaimed recordings to their name. So how do these artists combine? Technically, there are absolutely no problems at all, with the accuracy of the playing and the recording quality being of very high quality.

What I find totally missing is the massiveness and thrill of the power of the Brahms D Minor. We can hear this quite clearly on competitive versions such as Gilels / BPO / Jochum, Katchen / LSO / Monteux, to name two budget discs currently on offer at only slightly higher prices. Admittedly, both of these are older recordings and suffer accordingly, but both are of such a high quality that the difference is only marginal. The gains in performance however, are enormous.

There is a very gentle atmosphere present throughout the current disc, which finds its proper place in the second movement (the adagio), although even this comes over as somewhat sleepy in character. Antoni Wit tries very hard to work up a good head of steam but is demoralised somewhat by the delicate playing of his soloist. This is lovely piano playing but it is not the Brahms D Minor.

After a somewhat tame rendition of the initial Maestoso, where all the notes are in the right order and position, but not truly maestoso, the orchestra must have been somewhat demoralised as they almost come to a halt in the second movement. Even the dramatic outbursts in the central section of the adagio are muted to such an extent that the contrast between this and what went before is lost. When the last movement is reached, the situation improves a little, but not enough to redeem the performance.

Schumann's Introduction and Allegro is not the more usual work (the Op. 92) but the later Op. 134, confusingly also called Introduction and (Concert) Allegro, Op. 134, where the term "Concert" is often dropped. This suits Idil Biret's style of playing somewhat better than the Brahms. The orchestra also seems a little perkier so if it is this work you want, the disc is well worth buying, especially at its very reasonable cost. Some of the interplay between pianist and orchestra is sometimes a little inaccurate, but this is of relatively minor importance.

John Phillips

See also review by Adrian Smith

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