Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.2 is the most ambitious of his concertos for soloist and orchestra, dating from 1878-81. Its symphonic nature is unmistakeable; throughout its four movements the piano is in collaboration rather than combat with the orchestra, despite the meaty demands that Brahms makes upon the soloist. Among its many highlights are the extraordinary opening on solo horn, echoed by the piano; the stormy and energetic second movement, which Brahms once described with tongue in cheek as a ‘tiny wisp of a scherzo’; a passionate yet inward-looking slow movement in which a solo cello features prominently; a sparkling finale.
This performance is a live recording made in January 2013, a sequel to the same team’s earlier account of the First Concerto. Pollini is in magisterial and massive mode, while Thielemann leads the fulsome-toned Dresden Staatskapelle in an energetic, larger-than-life reading. Some may consider this approach old-fashioned, with its emphasis on superhuman scale rather than detail and intimacy; Pollini, these days an elder statesman of the piano, may sometimes sound less entirely secure than one might hope. But the overall impression is that the musicians swallow the score at a gulp and show it to us as the strong-centred masterpiece it is, refreshingly undiluted by anything other than the music itself.