Wiener Philharmoniker, Mariss Jansons, Rudolf Buchbinder
Brahms: Piano Concerto no. 1 in D minor, op. 15
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances, op. 45
The combination of Rudolf Buchbinder and this orchestra meant Brahms done by the numbers, which was fine for that sort of thing if offering little for those of us who strain to hear the progressive in Brahms. Tempi could have been slightly less ponderous but it didn’t drag. The strings lacked some of their famous glow, but Jansons kept them from playing too thickly and there was a diaphanous, impressionistic quality to the beginning of the second movement. In typical Philharmoniker style, wind and brass playing swung erratically between untouchable and mediocre: a beautifully mellow horn solo was enough to forgive the amateur hour slips elsewhere, but a plaintive oboe moment didn’t quite make up for tinny and flat playing across the winds.
Buchbinder contributed some expressive playing even if, despite his best efforts, his right hand didn’t quite make the piano sing. Busier moments were overpedalled, tending towards muddy, and things like double trills weren’t together. But his left hand octaves had good depth and while dynamic range seemed limited, it was well-controlled. Unlike Jansons with almost everything he conducts, there’s a sense that it’s been a while since Buchbinder rethought or interrogated the way he plays this work. But there’s also a dramatic edge to the playing which compensates without overcompensating, if that makes sense.
The Philharmoniker took some time to settle into the Rachmaninov, but by the middle section of the first dance this was recognisable as vintage Jansons: warmly expressive and yet not adding sugar to honey, as he is prone to saying. It was good to finally see Albena Danailova in the leader’s chair, something which would have been unthinkable as recently as ten years ago. Her brief solo in the second dance showed how well she’s assimilated the plush, upholstered sound the Philharmoniker holds so dearly and while Rainer Küchl, the most senior of the orchestra’s four concertmasters, would have drawn more attention to that moment, I liked Danailova’s refinement. There were some good solos as well in the third dance, Jansons gently guiding the detail along with an eloquent flick of the baton here, a warm smile there. He didn’t quite get his way with the second dance – when this orchestra sees a waltz it’s pretty much game over – but integrating the Dies Irae into the symphonic fabric of the third movement more convincingly than I’ve ever heard it, he brought the work to a finely balanced and penetrating conclusion.