Brhams: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 (1881)
Johannes Brahms's much-quoted, tongue-in-cheek quip describes this epic piano concerto as "a tiny, tiny pianoforte concerto, with a tiny, tiny wisp of a scherzo." It followed the First Piano Concerto by 22 years — a very long hiatus, indeed — but perhaps understandable, as his first effort in the genre was less than successful in its time. But much like that work, the four movements of the present Second Piano Concerto seem to approach the dimensions of a symphony. (In fact, in another famous quip, the irascible music critic Eduard Hanslick called the concerto "a symphony with piano obbligato.") At once full of nobility, lyricism, and brilliance, the concerto is also monstrously challenging to perform and demands not only interpretive power, but sheer stamina (though it should be remembered that Brahms was not an advocate of technical virtuosity as an end in itself). Brahms was the soloist at the premiere, conducted by the renowned Hans von Bülow. The concerto begins with a brass fanfare or motif — answered with great beauty by the piano-that becomes the source material for much of the first movement's power. There is plenty of excitement as you watch the hands of the soloist leap across the keyboard and pile up rich chords in the process. The "wisp" of the scherzo is anything but; it is a stormy, dramatic statement. The Andante features a gorgeous cello solo and provides moments of great tenderness and grace. And the finale's marking of "Allegretto grazioso" sums up perfectly the surprisingly light but dazzling conclusion, in which some listeners have heard suggestions of the Hungarian gypsy music Brahms so often gravitated to — perhaps a nod to Budapest, the place of the premiere.
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6, "Pathétique"
New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Rudolf Buchbinder, piano
New York Philharmonic Website
Detailed schedule information:
7:30 pm, 8:00 pm