The very fine British pianist Paul Lewis turns his gifted views on one of the cornerstones of the piano classical literature, Brahms' First Piano Concerto.
The work is full of youthful ardour and genius. It was intended as a symphony, but Brahms thought it a little under the shadow of Beethoven. So, a concerto was produced.
Of course, it has all the hallmarks of his genius without the final blush that one hears in the flawless 2nd Piano Concerto.
A hint at the original symphonic concept appears in the long orchestral opening sequence. It is heavy and can sound leaden if not played with extreme rhythmic vitality. Daniel Harding conducts his Swedish forces with the requisite emphasis on the rhythm and especially Brahms' very tricky string syncopations. Think dancing elegantly in heavy cream.
The orchestra is very good but without the sheen the top guys get with Berlin or Vienna.
The piano part needs a Hercules to get the balance of power and light without losing sight of the whole.
Lewis, along with young Benjamin Grosvenor, is Britain's greatest pianist. Both live and in recent recordings, I've not heard better.
Here, Lewis captures the grandeur and the dreams. His tone is balanced and it rings beautifully above the orchestra. Technically, he doesn't put a foot wrong.
Lewis adds some solo magic to the Concerto. He adds the Ballades, Op. 10. Inspired by his burgeoning love for his best friend's wife, Clara Schumann, these youthful works hint at the maelstrom to come, both in Brahms' private and compositional life.
For the Concerto, my go to is Rubenstein's 1954 LSC with Reiner. Yes, it's amazing. But why not get a relatively young Turk in very good modern Harmonia Mundi sound offering an equally involved performance? It'll do your soul good. Highly recommended.
Harmonia Mundi HMC902191 [72:00]