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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Brahms, Brahms

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This week, Vinyl’s Revenge returns with a pair of vinyl recordings from the early 1980’s, featuring Daniel Barenboim (as a pianist, and mot as a conductor) and the New-York Philharmonic under its long-time Music Director, Zubin Mehta.

On 15 June 1967, Barenboim and British cellist Jacqueline du Pré were married in Israel at a Western Wall ceremony and, acting as one of the witnesses, was his longtime friend Mehta. Du Pré’s career was cut short by multiple sclerosis, forcing her to stop performing at the age of 28. She battled the illness for many years, which ultimately resulted in an untimely death. Here they are in happier times, in this 1969 documentary featuring them as part of an “all-star” quintet:

All four of the men – Barenboim, Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman – have since not only grown to establish solid careers, but all four (less in Perlman’s case, though) have also been active as conductors. In light of the passing of both Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel, Barenboim and Mehta (along with Seiji Ozawa and – to a lesser extent – Zukerman) are all part of the so-called “next generation” of conductors, the one that succeeded the era of Bernstein, Karajan and Giulini.

(In passing, Mr. Mehta is still quite active as a conductor at nearly 80 years old, and is scheduled to return to Montreal in a few months to conduct the first major orchestra he led as music director (1961-67), and will then be the only living conductor to have led the orchestra in regular subscription concerts at its three historic homes: Le Plateau, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier and la Maison Symphonique).

Barenboim’s less heard as a pianist these days and is more recognized as a conductor (not unlike Vladimir Ashkenazy or Christoph Eishenbach), but this does not mean that his prowess at the keyboard isn’t noteworthy. His main piano teachers were his parents (his mother at first, and later his father). Born in Argentina, Barenboim and his family relocated to Israel when he was 10 years old. After performing in Buenos Aires, Barenboim made his international debut as a pianist in 1952 in Vienna and Rome. In 1955 he performed in Paris, in 1956 in London, and in 1957 in New York under the baton of Leopold Stokowski. Regular concert tours of Europe, the United States, South America, Australia and the Far East followed thereafter. While visiting many of the great European musical centers as a teenager, Barenboim perfected himself both as a pianist and as a conductor.

In the beginning of his career, Barenboim concentrated on music of the classical era, as well as some romantic composers. Among his recordings are the complete cycles of Mozart's and Beethoven's piano sonatas, and Mozart's piano concertos (in the latter, taking part as both soloist and conductor). Romantic recordings include Brahms' piano concertos, Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, and Chopin's nocturnes.

Today’s featured Brahms concerto performances capture a specific era in time for the industry (the latter years of analog recording), the Philharmonic (as Mehta still is, to this day, the orchestra’s longest-serving Music Director) and the soloist (heard less and less as pianist in a feature role, as conducting took over his recording career).

As for the interpretations – I think these are very good. In terms of commercial recordings of the Brahms concertos, Barenboim recorded them with the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli (in 1967, I believe), and here about 15 years later as part of a series of Brahms discs by Mehta and the Philharmonic (which have included the violin concerto with Isaac Stern as soloist, and the Brahms 2nd symphony). All these recordings, in my opinion, help establish Mehta’s pedigree as a good (not great) interpreter of the late Romantic German repertoire. Hard to say which set of Barenboim discs is better – here is a link to YouTube videos of the 1967 set for you to compare.

Johannes BRAHMS (1833 –1897)
Concerto No. 1 In D Minor For Piano And Orchestra, Op. 15
Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 83
Daniel Barenboim, piano
New-York Philharmonic
Zubin Mehta, conducting

CBS Masterworks M 35884/35885 (Vinyl AAA)
Recorded in 1981
YouTube URL -

February 13, 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "Aria, Aria" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more on our blogs in English and in French.