Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat major, with pianist François-Frédéric Guy, L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Adrien Perruchon

Brahms’s Symphony with Piano.

That’s how I see it, because most of the orchestral part could and does stand on its own and parts of the piano sections connect the orchestral sections.

Hola a todos. This superb Orchestra — L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France– looked like they enjoyed performing the Brahms’s Second. That’s not always the case for an orchestra performing a piano concerto because too often they merely serve as accompanist, and they would rather be the “soloist” themselves. But in this case with the Brahms’s PC2, they are the soloist throughout along with the pianist as an equal partner.

Brahms had a sarcastic sense of humour. From what I’ve read, his style of sarcasm became annoying to some people. Such as about this concerto, he wrote to his friend Clara Schumann that he had written a very small piano concerto. Yeah right, Johannes! In reality the piece is anything but small. It’s really a major symphonic work with piano in four (not the usual three) movements.

From my research, “everybody and his brother” (as the expression goes) has recorded it. There are close to 30 — if not more — recordings of this piece by piano artists who have recorded the concerto one or more times.

This is a lovely performance from Paris of the Brahms’s Second PC (Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major, Op 83). I keep coming back to this performance after watching others. Some of the accompanying of the pianist that L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France does in the quietest sections of this concerto — such as the third movement where the principal cellist shares the solo role with the pianist — are rather stunning and emotionally moving at least to me. Other orchestras I’ve watched don’t quite play it the same way, and when they don’t, I’m reminded of this performance when I hear those other performances. I think: How could they not play it this way as they do in Paris?

In my opinion, this performance is as close to perfection as it could be. I’d still be interested to know how much rehearsal time they had for this performance, not that any more rehearsal was needed what-so-ever, assuming they had any or some rehearsal to begin with! Typically, a piano concerto does not get much rehearsal time before a performance. The conductor may go over tricky places with the pianist and orchestra, but I think it’s rare to go straight through the piece from beginning to end from my understanding of what major symphony orchestras do and their approach to a concerto. It’s not that the orchestral musicians are necessarily sight-reading their parts in the performance — perhaps some are — as I suspect they practise or go over their own parts alone at home or somewhere. But I wonder about the rehearsal time involved because I’m thinking of one of my favourite orchestras in the EU and their performance of the Brahms’s First Piano Concerto. Watching that performance, it was clear to me from the facial expression of the second chair violists that he had not heard what the pianist was playing before in the performance. That’s because he had this look on his face as if to say: “Hmmmmmm. I’ve not heard this before. Are those thick chords in the piano supposed to be that loud and forceful.” (Yes, they are). Well, this told me that they had not rehearsed that part of the movement or the entire slow movement, although their performance sounded perfect regardless. And musicians of that high-skill level can play perfectly by sight-reading, if that’s what they were doing in that performance I mentioned. But I was thinking while watching that performance of the Brahms’s First PC: Well, if the orchestra had rehearsed that movement, the violist would not have had responded like that in the performance. Instead, he wouldn’t have made any facial expression because he would have already heard it — at least once — in rehearsal. That’s why it told me that they didn’t rehearse that part or that entire movement, although again, it sounded perfect and polished.

This performance is also superbly recorded and the camera work is excellent (merci to the camera crew). The only annoyance with the camera work — and it’s certainly not just this camera crew; most camera crews do this sort of thing — is the obsession with watching the pianist’s face. I get tired of that camera angle. As a piano major at the Conservatory where I trained, I’d prefer to have the camera on the keyboard so I can watch the pianist play. I’m much more interested in watching him play that in watching his face. Well, usually the camera parks at the end of the piano where (usually) the cello or viola section is seated and the camera zooms in on the pianist’s face so we can see every pore and hair follicle. And sweat bead. I think the intent is to give the viewer a clue into the pianist’s “mind,” his (in this case) every thought and emotion during the performance in a philosophical way (Dahling). I find it all a bit much frankly. In reality, often it’s needless theatrics we’re seeing on the pianist’s face. Or the pianist is working hard to see the score in his head from his memorisation of the piece and that’s interpreted in a philosophical way (Dahling) as something other than what it is. I suppose the pretentious classical music armchair critics — most of whom have likely never studied music or any instrument what-so-ever while serving as know-it-alls — would say: “Look at the poetry on the pianist’s face, Dahling” or “The pianist is feeling the pain and anguish that Brahms felt while composing this piece, Dahling” or “Judging by the pianist’s face, this time was a good time in Brahms’s life, Dahling.” Oh por favor/please, stop the philosophical drivel. I guess someone is trying to give a “High Brow” (Dahling) pretentious feel to the thing. It reminds me of some concert venues that — rather than getting on with the performance — begin a performance with a poetry reading, Dahling. The poem has nothing to do with the music being performed. It’s just a poem and I think the intent is to “set the mood of a High Brow occasion” or something. In reality, the pianist was likely thinking about something completely unrelated or how much he was enjoying playing with such an outstanding Orchestra and the sound he was hearing. Personally, I see enough of a pianist’s sweaty face from a profile view. François-Frédéric is interesting to watch though. He has all kinds of facial expressions while playing. Adrien Perruchon, the conductor, is pretty much without any drastic facial expressions. The other musicians also have interesting facial expressions alone or with each other at times.

Adrien is an excellent conductor — he has studied both bassoon and percussion and was Principal Tympanist with this Orchestra back in 2003 — and conducts in a pretty straight forward manner. He’s certainly not all about show. I think he would be a pleasure to work with in a soloist-conductor situation. If I’m correct, he’s currently the Principal Tympanist with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. “The boy is quite talented” as they say. Unlike some other conductors, he doesn’t conduct when the pianist is playing alone. I wouldn’t either. There’s no need for that. The pianist doesn’t need to be conducted when playing alone. In fact, the pianist knows the piece better than anyone else on the stage other than perhaps the conductor because of the length of time it takes for a pianist to learn a concerto of this magnitude. But as I said earlier, I’ve watched many performances of this concerto on U-toob and this performance I enjoy the most. Adrien also reminds me somewhat of Nicolás Mora from the internationally-known telenovela “Yo soy Betty, la fea.” I wonder if he’s ever seen that? Probably not. Mi amigo/My friend said he was thinking the same thing when I mentioned it one night when we were watching this performance. Nicolás was one of our favourite characters from the telenovela.

*I was going to compare this performance to another performance I watched recently from Italia. In that performance, the pianist was playing a Hamburg-Fabbrini piano and I was going to write a little about that. The Hamburg-Fabbrini is a Hamburg Steinway Concert Grand Model D that’s been modified at the Fabbrini factory in Italia. It’s not that one piano is better than the other. It’s a case of what sound one wants. To my ear, the Fabbrini has a brighter tone and a thunderous bass, which was nicely heard in the Brahms’s Second PC. The Hamburg Steinway Model D has a velvety tone and very rich bass register and sparkling treble register. I like both pianos and I think it would be interesting to see a pianist use both pianos in the same performance. Maybe use the Hamburg for certain passages and the Fabbrini for others. Unfortunately, that video of the Brahms with the Hamburg-Fabbrini from Italia has been made “Private” by the orchestra that recorded the performance. I have no idea why they made it available initially, but it’s now gone. It was their own performance so I shouldn’t think there wouldn’t be any copyright issues involved, unless the pianist hadn’t given them permission to upload it. But isn’t that all agreed to in the initial contract with the artist management? I should think so. As I said, the Hamburg-Fabbrini piano (used in Italia) has a more thunderous bass, which was especially noticeable in the second movement of the Brahms where the pianist has double octaves in the lower register. The bass is less thunderous on the Hamburg Steinway, at least to my ear, although I’m always satisfied and pleased with the bass register I hear on any Hamburg Steinway. It’s just that it’s less thunderous than on the Fabbrini.

The third movement is particularly enjoyable: In the third movement, the principal cellist is the soloist along with the pianist. The pianist mostly accompanies the Orchestra with beautiful chords and trills in this movement. Near the end of the movement, I like the way the pianist begins the trills softly and then brings them up in volume. I’m not sure what the score says about that. I’ve never played the piece or worked on it, although I do have the score — Editions Henle Verlag, if anyone is interested — so when I have the time I’ll dig that out and see what it says about how the trills should be played. The pianist in the Italia performance I watched did not start the trills softly. He started them at the same volume level that he kept them at while the cellist was playing the cello solo of that movement.

Again, the conductor (Andrien) for this performance is superb, in my opinion. He seems like such a laid-back guy and doesn’t make it all about himself. I’m not usually that much into conductors — unlike some people I don’t engage in conductor worshipping — but Andrien “won me over” (so to speak) with his style as if to say, “You could probably play this without me, but I’m here anyway.” And he’s within handshaking distance of the pianist just as he should be so that he and the pianist have absolute close contact/communication throughout the performance. The podium and piano could have been moved more into/deeper into the Orchestra by a couple of feet — rather than having the piano so close to the audience — so that the First and Second Concertmasters are seated directly behind the pianist and within camera view of the pianist.

La Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France still have the same First Concertmaster. I’ve seen him several times although I’ve not seen the Second Concertmaster before.

This video below is from a live recording on December 12, 2014 at the Auditorium of Radio France.

Chau.—el barrio rosa