Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2 1st mov.
Barenboim, Celibidache, Munich Philharmonic
Recorded live at the Gasteig, Munich, 1991
Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2 2nd mov Allegro Appassionato
Sviatoslav Richter, Evgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Symphony
Live recording, May 24, 1951
Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2 3rd mov. Andante Piu Adagio
Piano: Edwin Fischer, Conductor: Wilhelm Furtwängler, Berliner Philharmoniker Solo Cellist: Arthur Troester
Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2 4th mov.
Kirill Gerstein, piano. Gustavo Dudamel, cond. Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. Caracas, Venezuela
The Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 83 by Johannes Brahms is a composition for solo piano with orchestral accompaniment. It is separated by a gap of 22 years from the composer’s first piano concerto. Brahms began work on the piece in 1878 and completed it in 1881 while in Pressbaum near Vienna. It is dedicated to his teacher, Eduard Marxsen. The premiere of the concerto was given in Budapest on November 9, 1881, with Brahms as soloist, and was an immediate success. He proceeded to perform the piece in many cities across Europe.
The piece is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (B-flat), 2 bassoons, 4 horns (initially 2 in B-flat bass, 2 in F), 2 trumpets (B-flat), timpani (B-flat and F), and strings. (The trumpets and timpani are used only in the first two movements, which is unusual.)
The piece is in four movements, rather than the three typical of concertos in the Classical and Romantic periods:
Allegro non troppo (B-flat major)
Allegro appassionato (D minor)
Andante (B-flat major)
Allegretto grazioso (B-flat major)
The additional movement results in a concerto considerably lengthier than most other concertos written up to that time, with typical performances lasting around 50 minutes. Upon its completion, Brahms sent its score to his friend, the surgeon and violinist Theodor Billroth to whom Brahms had dedicated his first two string quartets, describing the work as “some little piano pieces.” Brahms even described the stormy scherzo as a “little wisp of a scherzo.”
Allegro non troppo
The first movement is in the concerto variant of sonata form. The main theme is introduced with a horn solo, with the piano interceding. The woodwind instruments proceed to introduce a small motif before an unusually placed cadenza appears. The full orchestra repeats the theme and introduces more motifs in the orchestral exposition. The piano and orchestra work together to develop these themes in the piano exposition before the key changes to F minor (from F major, the dominant) and the piano plays a powerful and difficult section before the next orchestral tutti appears. The development, like many such sections in the Classical period, works its way from the dominant key back to the tonic while heavily developing themes. At the beginning of the recapitulation, the theme is replayed before a differing transition is heard, returning to the music heard in the piano exposition (this time in B-flat major / B-flat minor). A coda appears after the minor key section, finishing off this movement.
This scherzo is in the key of D minor and is in ternary form. Contrary to Brahms’s “tiny wisp of a scherzo” remark, it is a tumultuous movement. The piano and orchestra introduce the theme and develop it before a quiet section intervenes. Soon afterwards the piano and orchestra launch into a stormy development of the theme before coming to the central episode (in D major). The central episode is brisk and begins with the full orchestra before yet another quiet section intervenes; then the piano is integrated into the orchestral effect to repeat the theme of the central episode. The beginning section returns but is highly varied.
The slow movement is in the tonic key of B-flat major and is unusual in utilizing an extensive cello solo within a piano concerto. Brahms subsequently rewrote the cello’s theme and changed it into a song, Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer (“My Slumber grows ever more Peaceful”) with lyrics by Hermann Van Lingg. (Op. 105, No. 2). Within the concerto, the cello plays the theme for the first three minutes, before the piano comes in. However, the gentler melodic piece that the piano plays soon gives way to a stormy theme in B-flat minor. When the storm subsides, still in the minor key, the piano plays a transitional motif that leads to the key of G-Flat major, before the Cello comes in to reprise, in the wrong key, and knowing that it has to get back to B-flat major, the piano and the orchestra make a transition to finish off the theme in its original home key of B-flat major. After the piano plays the transitional motifs, the piano quickly reprises the middle section in a major key, before playing the final chords to end this beautiful movement.
The last movement consists of five clearly distinguishable sections, of which the last is a ‘stretto’ (faster) coda. The first section (bars 1 to 64) is built on two themes: the first and main theme of classical structure (1-8) is first played by the piano and then repeated by the orchestra. The second theme (16-20) is likewise presented by the piano and repeated – and expanded – by the orchestra. A kind of development of the first theme leads to the next section. The second section (65-164) is built on three themes. Number three (65-73, a minor) is very different from the previous ones: by its minor key and its rhythm, which is Hungarian, in Number four (81-88) is still in a minor and number five (97-104) in F major. These three themes are repeated several times, which gives the section the character of a development. The third section (165-308) can be seen as a reprise of the first; it is built on the first two themes, but a striking new element is given in 201-205 and repeated in 238-241. The fourth section (309-376) gives the themes 3, 5 and 4, in that order. The coda is built on the main theme, but even here (398) Brahms presents a new element, being in a form of a little march, first played by the piano, and then, the orchestra comes in, and trades themes in the march before the final chords.
Igor Zhukov with Gennady Rozhdestvensky and the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio
Geza Anda with Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker
Claudio Arrau with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Wilhelm Backhaus with Karl Bohm and Wiener Philharmoniker
Idil Biret with Antoni Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Van Cliburn with Kiril Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra (recorded live in concert in 1972, remastered and released by the prestigious RCA Victor Red Seal Label in 1994)
Van Cliburn with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (studio recording made in 1962 on RCA Living Stereo, LSC-2581, in 1962)
Edwin Fischer with Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berliner Philharmoniker
Leon Fleisher with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra
Emil Gilels with Eugen Jochum, and the Berliner Philharmoniker, and an earlier interpretation with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Horacio Gutierrez with Andre Previn and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Horowitz with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra
Stephen Kovacevich with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra
Maurizio Pollini with Claudio Abbado and the Wiener Philharmoniker
Sviatoslav Richter with Erich Leinsdorf and Chicago Symphony Orchestra (won for Best Classical Performance – Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (with orchestra) at the Grammy Awards of 1961), and an earlier interpretation with Yevgeny Mravinsky
Artur Rubinstein with Witold Rowicki and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Artur Schnabel with Adrian Boult and BBC Symphony Orchestra
Ivan Moravec with Jiri Belohlavek and Czech Philharmonic Orchestra