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CD Reviews

Brahms Piano Pieces from Texas

Precious Piano PiecesBy Sefton Wiggs, Music Director, PRE

New Bern, NC – In his usual self-depreciating way, Johannes Brahms wrote to his friends of a "tiny, tiny piano concerto with a tiny, tiny wisp of a scherzo" and of "a bunch of little piano pieces."
History reveals that from its opening horn call with the piano soon taking over the proceeedings to its "child-like" finale, the Piano Concerto No.2 by Brahms is one of those lonumental- and still popular- works for piano and orchestra. That it's also one of my favorites probably shouldn't color this review, but sometimes I can't help myself.
Not only do I love this concerto. The performance here by Montreal-born pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Litton has kept me under its spell for the last couple of weeks.
Brahms (1833-97) completed his second concerto in 1881 near his adopted home city of Vienna. It's in four movements instead of the usual three for a concerto,and begins with a plaintive horn call that the piano seems to take over even before the horn player has a chance to finish.
The second movement- the 'extra" one- is even more powerful than the first, with the piano gushing out its opening theme before the orchestra comes in to calm the soloist.
The warm sounds of the solo cello- played here by Christopher Adkins-begins the beautiful third movement, while the pianist get a much-needed rest after the previous workout. When the pianist does arrive, it's with soothing music that fits the character of the cello's theme.
The rippling music of the finale has been described as child-like in mood, although the skill necessary to play it is anything but simple. This exuberant music brings to a close one of the greatest of all piano concertos. While I'll never forget my old LP of of pianist Rudolph Serkin and the Cleveland Orchestra with conductor George Szell in this music. Hamelin, Litton, and the Dallas players turn in a more credible job.
Hamlin rounds out this CD with the Four Piano Pieces, Op 119, that date to 1896 and were the last piano works Brahms completed. There are three gentle intermezzi and a lively rhapsody.
The aging Clara Wieck Schumann- Robert Schumann's widow and Brahms'close friend- is quoted by Brahms biographer, Malcolm MacDonald, as describing the first gentle intermezzo a a "grey pearl. Do you know them? They look as if they were veiled and are very precious."
Indeed, all of this music can be desribed as precious,

Sefton Wiggs is music director at Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina.