Halida Dinova plays Brahms -
unreservedly recommended by HOWARD SMITH
'A truly distinguished performance and recording ...'
Brahms' magisterial 2nd Piano Concerto, arguably the most fulfilling work in its genre, is recorded repeatedly yet finding a performance and sound engineering that proves satisfactory on all counts is rare indeed.
In fact there are numerous, widely varied rival recordings; many of them 'run-of-the-mill' affairs; others of considerable excellence.
On-line, Amazon directs one to a hundred plus recordings of this concerto. Several culprits record the work on two or more occasions. Barenboim alone accounts for three CDs; (a) he joined the New Philharmonia and Barbirolli (EMI Classics), the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Kubelik (Melodram Records; founded by opera's Inge Felderer, also known as Ina Delcampo) and the New York Philharmonic with his long-time chum, 72-year-old Zubin Mehta (Sony).
In short it's extraordinarily hard to stand out in the crowd with Brahms or Beethoven concerto recordings.
Yet here, beyond question, is just such a rarity. Vibrant, no-nonsense phrasing, incisive attack and impelling forward drive complemented with moments of translucent calm lend Brahms' opening Allegro non troppo refreshing virility and rare, distinctive spontaneity.
At the same time Dinova brings a full muscular dimension to the composer's sweeping musical architecture. Qualities such as these, and moments of singular playfulness, elevate the Dinova/St Petersburg 'millenium year' recording and performance into the highest echelon of the concerto's CD interpreters.
Such spellbinding, deeply-felt musicianship enables this young Tatar pianist (born in Kazan) to achieve a perfect equation between the poetic head and fiery heart -- a gratifying outcome bestowed on very few.
Equally compelling is Dinova's cognisance of chamber-like imprints in the profoundly-communing Andante (B flat major/F sharp major), with its autumnal opening cello solo, so moving as played by Sergei Petchatin.
In Dinova's hands Brahms' sparkling Allegretto grazioso brings the work to an ebullient, captivating conclusion.
Until now my personal handful of favourites included Geza Anda (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra / Ferenc Fricsay), Leon Fleischer (Cleveland Orchestra / George Szell), Emil Gilels (Chicago Symphony Orchestra / Fritz Reiner) and (if limited to just one), then Gina Bachauer (1913-1976) with the LSO and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.
Others single out pianist Ashkenazy, Haitink, cellist Robert Scheiwein and the Vienna Philharmonic (1984) as a formidable No 1 preference.
Now, to my astonishment and delight, Dinova proves a truly astute, inspirational, breathtaking performer, not the least bit out of place in the Olympian company of those above.
Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat is a mature work which Brahms began in spring 1878, shortly after he'd completed his 2nd Symphony. He finished it in summer 1881, having (meanwhile) written, among other works, the Violin Concerto. A completed score went to his friend, surgeon and violinist Theodore Billroth, with Brahms' self-deprecating note describing the concerto as 'some little piano pieces'.
The première in Pest, 9 November 1881, with the composer as soloist, was met with rapturous acclaim.
More than many concertos, this one calls for an exhaustive technique and unflagging stamina. Throughout its Herculean four movements (45' 23") there are extreme intervals and octave spans while excursions to outer positions alternate with rapid scale and chordal passages in both hands. Clearly it requires a performer combining optimum physicality and a keen artistic intellect.
A symphonic quality stems, in part, from its four movements instead of the usual three; for Brahms inserted a substantial scherzo between his expansive opening Allegro non troppo and a customary, restrained Andante.
Russian-based Argentine conductor Gustavo Plis-Sterenberg and the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra (founded 1967) complement Dinova with alert, skillfully considered support reinforced for Cantius Classics by Petersburg Recording Studio within the superior acoustic of St Petersburg Philharmonia.
The building housing the Philharmonia was devised (1839) by architect P Jacot (facade design by C Rossi) for the St Petersburg Assembly of the Noble; since the 1840s its hall has been the focal point of St Petersburg's musical life.
Its wonderful acoustic has long been a boon for Russia's active recording industry and in this instance it has demonstrably paid dividends.
With a wistful backward glance at Argentine, Plis-Sterenberg points to dancing to explain the difference between his Russian colleagues and his countrymen's (read 'Western') musicians.
'Western dancers count music when they dance, Russian-trained dancers let their soul feel the music and their body moves naturally to its sounds,' Plis-Sterenberg adds.
A truly distinguished performance and recording; the Brahms/Dinova-Plis-Sterenburg-St Petersburg CD is an unreserved recommendation.
Brahms' mix of capriccios and intermezzi comprising his Eight Piano Pieces Op 76 complete Dinova's 1 hour 16 minute CD, and their diversity makes this item -- recorded (2003) in St Catherine's Lutheran Church, Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa -- an ideal choice of filler.
While the late Julius Katchen ( Decca's six CD box set) and Wilhelm Kempff (Vol 55, 2 discs, in Philips' Great Pianists of the 20th Century) may never be dislodged in Brahms' solo works, Dinova performs Op 76 with passion, grace and humour.
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 2 in B flat Op 83: 1 Allegro non troppo 2 Allegro Appassionato 3 Andante 4 Allegretto grazioso
Eight Piano Pieces Op 76: 5 No 1 Capriccio in F sharp minor 6 No 2 Capriccio in B minor 7 No 3 Intermezzo in A flat 8 No 4 Intermezzo in B flat 9 No 5 Capriccio in C sharp minor 10 No 6 Intermezzo in A 11 No 7 Intermezzo in A minor 12 No 8 Capriccio in C