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Tiberghien's Brahms

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Brahms, Piano Concerto No. 1, Haydn Variations, Cédric Tiberghien, BBC SO, Jiří Bělohlávek

(released January 8, 2008)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901977
The first and last time we had Cédric Tiberghien in our ears, it was to review his recording of Bach partitas. The 30-something French pianist is back, on this recent Brahms release from the BBC Symphony Orchestra. His concert schedule will be bringing him to the United States this fall, but not to our area. He will be playing one of the Beethoven concerti with Marin Alsop in Bournemouth next month, so we may find him on the Baltimore Symphony schedule at some point. Tiberghien has the force and large hands needed for the titanic first movement, but he is most effective in the meltingly beautiful middle movement.

Brahms conceived this Adagio, one of the most lyrical and gorgeous movement in his oeuvre, as a song without words, a "gentle portrait" of Clara Schumann. He did so in the immediate wake of Robert Schumann's death in a mental hospital in July 1856, writing the words Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini under the Adagio's main theme. Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek, who hopefully might get some thought as an eventual successor to Leonard Slatkin at the National Symphony, draws a hushed performance from the BBC SO, like a pool of calm water. Tiberghien responds in kind, with gentle undulations of sound, and bubbling rivulets of trills toward the end. In this movement especially, the sense of Brahms stifling his own emotions seems to come across in the harmony, as chords build to an expected climax only to be turned aside, the urgency diffused and the turbulence silenced.

Having already written 38 minutes of music, Brahms worked heavily on the last movement, condensing it to a concise final statement. It generally sounds a little unconvincing as a conclusion, and that was true here, too. To round out the CD, there is a fine enough but unremarkable recording of the Haydn Variations.

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