#GERUKR differently: Brahms Piano Concerto no. 2 with Gilels (UKR) and Jochum (GER)

No, this is blog is not suddenly turning into a sports blog.

To explain the title hashtag to my non-EU readers: we currently have the Football Euro Cup 2016  going on in France (the real football, not the one where guys in funny plastic armor carry an egg around and jump at each other), and Germany just won against the Ukraine 2:0.

Emil Gilels

Let me instead write about my favorite Ukrainian of all times (and no, it’s not Vladimir Klitschko, and this is still not a sports blog): Emil Gilels. Born in Odessa, which seems to be a hotbed for great musicians, he is probably one of the best Brahms players I’ve ever heard.

Brahms Piano Concertos

More than one year into the life of this blog dedicated to Brahms in the subtitle, and I still haven’t written about the piano concertos yet. There are several reasons. a) there are among my absolute favorite pieces of music ever. b) there are just so many outstanding versions out there, I’m still not sure which one really is my favorite.

Especially for his 2nd piano concerto, which could also be called symphony with piano (as unlike the typical romantic piano concerto of the time, piano and orchestra are very interwoven), the Golden Age for the recordings were the 1950s and 60s. You can pretty much buy all versions the great Georges Szell has ever recorded (Fleischer, Curzon, Serkin), take the absolutely brilliant recoding by Serkin with Erich Leinsdorf on RCA, etc. etc. etc.

And then there is Gilels. So far, my favorite Gilels version always was the great version with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, again on RCA. His later recording on Deutsche Grammophon I bought later on CD, but listened to it much less.

Today, I ended up buying the new remaster of this recording, which features both concertos and the Fantasias op. 116.

Brahms Piano Concertos – Emil Gilels – Eugen Bochum – Berliner Philharmonic (DG 1972/2015)

Brahms: The Piano Concertos Emil Gilels Eugen Bochum Berliner Philharmoniker 24/96 DG 1972 2015

Gilels plays here with Eugen Jochum, a German conductor I mainly associated with his great Brucker cycles (both his EMI and DG cycles are excellent). And in a way this is fitting.

Especially in the slower parts, Brahms sounds a bit like Bruckner (which Brahms would probably have taken as an insult, he didn’t have a very high opinion of Bruckner). There are quite a low of slow moments. But slow with so much tension.

The 2nd concerto is in any case the much more mature (written in his 40s) piano concerto compared to the energy of the first concerto written in Brahms’ early 20s. So the slowness actually adds something. And Gilels manages to align perfectly with Jochum and the excellent BPO. There are so many more nuances in this recording that I’ve never heard in any other version.

Will this become my preferred version ever of no. 2? Honestly, I don’t know. In any case it is one of the absolute best out there, and it will always stay close to my heart.

I won’t comment today on concerto no. 1, which is equally contained on this release. Suffice it to say it is very good, but I’ll write more about it in a later post.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz), discounted at the time of writing this, and here (Prostudiomasters)