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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15 (1854-58) [47:27]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Concerto for Orchestra, Op.38 (1925) [12:38]
Rudolf Firkušný (piano)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans Rosbaud
rec. 4 December 1960, live, NY
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0553 [60:07] 

Czech pianist Rudolf Firkušný was a selective Brahmsian. His one studio recording of the First Concerto - he didn’t record the Second - was made in Pittsburgh in October 1956 with William Steinberg. That Capitol LP has been reissued, and can easily be found on an EMI CD. There is also a live New York Philharmonic performance from the same year, with Guido Cantelli [AS506]. Probably the best of his collaborations in the composer’s music came in the chamber sphere. He accompanied William Primrose in the Viola Sonatas and Erica Morini in the Third Violin Sonata [MCA, 1962] - though do not overlook Arbiter 151 which contains live Morini-Firkušný recitals, including another Third Sonata performance. Then there was the 1965 pairing of the pianist with Fournier in the Cello Sonatas. As for the solo piano music, there were a couple of discs in 1958 and 1959 - Rhapsodies, Intermezzi and Capriccios, in the main.
 
Rosbaud wasn’t especially known as a Brahms conductor - certainly not symphonically - but he was a fine accompanist. He controls the ebb and flow of the music-making with something like magisterial control, generating sinewy tension in the process, his soloist responding with an acutely directional sense - but one that’s never too taut. There are a few orchestral fluffs in the first movement, and no one could claim that the sound quality is state of the art for the time, but it is acceptable, Above all there is metrical flexibility within an established pulse, and Firkušný takes pains to stress the left-hand harmonic figures. Thus despite the tubby sound, the aristocratic distinction of the slow movement is unarguable, and where the pianist gives life to accompanying figures that others more commonly subordinate. Some imperious pianism animates the finale, often coruscating in its detonator-like power, and the concerto ends, as it should, in calibrated excitement and rhythmic allure.
 
One other piece from the same concert is included - Hindemith’s Concerto for Orchestra. Rosbaud was a fine conductor of the composer’s music and indeed he was taped [STR10022] with the Rome RAI Orchestra in 1959 playing the Concerto, so it was very much a calling-card of his at the time. Fortunately he had the NYPO at hand, and they contribute much with distinctive bravura, not least the droll wind choir in the scherzo second movement. The finale of this compact work is a dramatic and dynamic one, and it receives a rip-roaring performance.
 
The first port-of-call for Firkušný’s Brahms Concerto is the studio Steinberg, but it’s valuable and important now to have two ancillary live performances covering the years 1956-60. As is usual from this source, there are no notes.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 
Masterwork Index: Brahms piano concerto 1

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