Gramophone, April 2000

 Brahms, Piano Concerto no 1 in D minor, op 15 / Bach (arr. Brahms) Chaconne in D minor
 Daniel Levy pf / Philharmonia Orchestra / Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Edelweiss Emission ED 1062 68 minutes: DDD

More brain than brawn, and there's plenty of warmth on offer, though it's not a version to compare with the best

The perennial problem with performances of Brahms's First Piano Concerto is one of balance, how to pit the titanic orchestral score against a solo line that is quite often ruminative, even introspective. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau passes on the monumental axis favoured by, say Carlo Maria Giulini (in his long-deleted Chicago recording with Alexis Weissenberg, HMV, 6/74) or the more classical approaches of Szell, Reiner or Leinsdorf. Here, the Philharmonia plays best when the mood is lyrical, such as the string-textured second set at 1'28, or the return of the same theme from around 12'29, where Daniel Levy projects the melody's bare outline against a gently swaying (and texturally luminous) orchestral backdrop. Listen to how Fischer-Dieskau draws out the cello line from 17'07, how he curves and balances the wooodwind phrases form 19'03. These and similar details suggest a sympathetic mind engaging in a genuinely collaborative effort.

Levy follows similar trains of thought. His moulding of rubato is often sensitive (try the noble solo passage from 7'00) in the Adagio, his tone projection for his first statement has an almost operatic intensity (though his very first chord - at 1'49 - sounds a little sharp to my ears). Like Schnabel, he is more a thinking musician than a piano virtuoso, which means that any listener whose performace priorities ar pianistic refinement, lightning finger velocity or thundering octaves should look elsewhere. This isn't a perfect production by any means, and a certain tendeny to plod - I'm thinking in particular of the first movement's closing pages and much of the finale - rather bars it from front -rank status. The recording (made in Henry Wood Hall), though a little hard, is perfecty adequate.

The Bach-Brahms fill up is a humbling, and generally well-played, example of how one great composer could transcribe another's work without musical compromise. Like the Concerte, it's worth a listen. Rob Cowan