Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2: The Philadelphia Orchestra

Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart receive the majority of general praise as innovators from the baroque to early romantic age, as they should. Yet I find myself drawn to the thoughtful and pensive works of Brahms. An absolute student of his predecessors, Brahms considered every note in his published works, often spending years refining and honing them to a state of perfection. He may not be the innovator of the greats, but his capacity to emote mood, depth, breadth, and grandeur into his pieces  can arguably match any other composition. His are masterpieces in thought, carefully crafted works of an intellectual brilliant, which is very different than the tortured, repressed, or tormented artist. 

He labored on his second piano concerto for three years, and that twenty-two years after  releasing his first. He broke the mold by introducing four movements instead of the traditional three. Unlike many popular pieces, this work received immediate praise and has remained in the world performance repertoire since its release. 

While most of Philadelphia gathered to watch the Eagles crush the Jets, we chose to come to a superior performance. 

Tonight’s soloist came into the international spotlight in the now standardized manner: by winning the International Chopin Piano Competition. This competition is the premier stepping stone to solo work, yet it does not always produce virtuosos as much as extremely proficient performances. It takes something more to move me, that special “it” factor that cannot be categorized. 

If you have been reading previous reviews of the Philadelphia Orchestra, you already know tonight’s conductor, Yannick Nezet Seguin has that special je ne sais quoi. 

The performance began with Louise Farrenc’s 3rd Symphony. This was my first listening of this piece that moved between pensive and energetic with a light touch. It was enjoyable, uncomplicated, and pleasing to the ears; a selection played with great skill, but generally predictable and forgettable in its thematic phrasing and development. 

Yannick’s treatment of both pieces brought out the best in the orchestra, with the interplay of individuals and sections dancing through the music with the confidence his conducting style brings to the hall. They always seem to find another gear when  Mr. Nezet-Seguin lifts the baton. 

What of our soloist? Seong-Jin Cho demonstrated a beautifully light touch as demanded in the runs of the concerto and there were no noticiable flaws in his performance. His dramatic style did not prevent him from playing with precision and accuracy. At times the powerful wave of sound from the full orchestra smothered his tone causing a bit of muddying of the piano’s sound. Other times when the orchestra was at full volume the soloist managed to match them with full application of the Steinway’s  resonating capacities. With more experience and good feedback some of those little nuances will disappear and he may move to the performance levels of a Lang Lang. 

The audience loved both performances this evening, rightly giving standing ovations to both works. Their enthusiasm brought on an encore, which I though demonstrated Seong’s skill and touch more than the concerto. 

And Yannick came out in an Eagle’s jersey. 

As always, you can hear these performance and compare your impressions with mine. The concerts are rebroadcast on WRTI 90.1 on Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m. and Monday evenings on WRPI HD 2 at 7 p.m. Visit www.WRTI.org for online listing and more details. The best orchestra (yes, I said it) in the world in your living room is great, but do not miss the opportunity to hear them in Verizon Hall if you have the chance. It is worth a trip. 

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