- Intermezzo for piano in B minor, Op. 119/1
- Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
As much a symphony as it is a concerto, Brahms' "First Piano Concerto" suffered an understandable identity crisis early in its creation. The work began its existence as a sonata for two pianos, then a symphony, and finally in its present guise as a piano concerto. Not surprisingly, the concerto features a densely orchestrated, powerful accompaniment that can present formidable balance issues. To give the solo line the best possible chance of being heard over the orchestra, this MDG Live disc, featuring pianist Hardy Rittner, employs an 1854 Erard piano, an instrument with which Brahms would have been familiar and even preferred on some occasions for its power and clarity of tone. The orchestra, l'arte del mondo, also uses period instruments to give listeners the best possible idea of what a performance during Brahms' lifetime might have been like. The result is indeed remarkably clear and well-balanced. Rittner's nimble playing on the Erard piano is muscular yet sensitive, and produces a bright but pleasing tone across its range. Likewise, the orchestra's sound is rich and assertive without drowning out the piano. What falls a bit short is cohesiveness within the orchestra. During the many extensive orchestral tuttis, attacks between sections are not always precisely unison, and there's a tendency for the orchestra as a whole to drag. At a mere 50 minutes of music, this is a very lean disc that could certainly have given listeners more exposure to the Erard with some additional solo works.