This week, I listened to Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2. This is the piece that I am currently working on for orchestral excerpts for lessons, so I decided that as long as I knew it, I should write about it. The recording that I checked out of the music library was of the BBC playing the piece under the direction of Adrian Boult. The piano soloist for this recording was Artur Schnabel. The recording, obviously very old when the orchestra enters, was recorded in 1935. Schnabel died sixteen years after this recording was made.
The first movement starts out with a delicate, soft horn solo. This solo is known by all horn players as a real “nail biter,” for the solo horn comes in completely cold. There is a moderately long introduction by the orchestra before the piano comes in with this line of mixed emotion, first somewhat anxious and before bringing in a relaxed theme which the orchestra takes over. The horn line, present in both the first and third horns, is heard throughout the movement and in a variety of textures. The first time, it is present as a very delicate line, however quickly, the same line turns into a brass fanfare of sorts. Brahms does a wonderful job of using this theme and weaving it seamlessly into the different textures of the movement.
The second movement marked “Allegro appassionato” is just that - the piece starts off with an emotion-filled line in both the piano and the orchestra. Brahms wastes no time getting to the main idea of the movement. The influence of the theme from the first movement can be felt throughout the second movement with the descending groups of three notes continues in this triple meter movement.
The third movement starts off with a solo, introspective cello solo. Beautifully played in this recording, the cello leads the small group of strings into the next section with full orchestra. Again, in this movement, the orchestra almost has more to do with the conveying of the emotion than the piano does. Tension builds about a third of the way through the piece with the piano's running octave lines and unusual harmonies. The movement ends as beautifully as it started, with a shorter yet beautiful cello solo with the piano.
The fourth and final movement begins with an almost playful and jubilant theme introduced by the piano. The piano, setting the tone for each the following section, leads the orchestra into the section. The orchestra does a beautiful job of providing energy while allowing the piano to remain the main propellant of the mood. The piece ends much like it started in this movement with the jubilant, jumping lines in the strings with the piano performing his last fun runs as the piece ends.
This recording was an oldie, but a goodie. It captured the character that Brahms was attempting to convey through his music.