Last autumn Helene Grimaud released a fine recording of Brahms’ piano concertos under the baton of Andris Nelsons: to hear them perform the second concerto live with the Philharmonia Orchestra was to realise anew what a superb symbiosis they can achieve.
With this work the challenge for the pianist is huge: premiering it himself from the keyboard, Brahms had deployed a formidable range of virtuoso techniques, but the unfazed Grimaud gave a performance of wonderfully controlled fire and fury.
The spaciousness of her introduction gave notice that this would be a big conception, and as she asserted her dominion over the orchestra in the Herculean first movement, one remembered that the wolf colony she famously created had been founded on just such loving control of dark forces.
Picking up the lyrical cello theme which opened the Andante, she took it to eloquent heights before bringing it back down as though into a dream, and she found an ideal balance with the orchestra in the liberatingly exuberant finale.
And if her performance was finely judged, so was the way Nelsons kept pace in both tone and tempo, as was his treatment of Brahms’ fourth symphony which followed, despite some rough edges.
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