Arts » Classical Music

ISO features Beethoven/Brahms' "firsts"

Pianist Dejan Lazic begins a two-week trek playing Brahms' 1st

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Pianist Dejan Lazic
  • Pianist Dejan Lazic

Dejan Lazic is the ISO's only guest pianist to have played Brahms' "Third" Piano Concerto here a few years back. But Brahms only wrote two piano concertos, you say. Yes he did, but our Croatian-born pianist recast Brahms' Violin Concerto into a piano concerto, and very successfully, as his performance here demonstrated. This time, however, Lazic returned to perform the German Romantic master's Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 (1858). Written when the composer was 25, it is Brahms' first large-scale masterwork -- by quite a few years. In breadth and scope it all-but-equals his Second Piano Concerto (which we'll hear Lazic perform next weekend), written 23 years later when he was at the peak of his large-scale creativity.

With ISO music director Krzysztof Urbański returning to the podium, his program opened with Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21, another "first." Though most would deem it the weakest of the composer's Immortal Nine, Op. 21 (1800) stands up as rather substantial fare on its own, exceeding all the earlier symphonies of Haydn and Mozart when the form was in its infancy. Though inferior to most of his predecessors' late symphonies, Op. 21 shows the Beethoven stamp from its introductory phrase onward.

Allowing for some rough string work at the start, the symphony was given a durable, energetic reading with a good up-tempo apropos to all four movements. In their rapid passage work in the fourth movement, the strings redeemed themselves with crisp, taut playing. In hearing Beethoven's Op. 21, we could anticipate how Urbański would manage the composer's succeeding eight.

If Urbański had approached the Brahms First Piano Concerto as he had the Beethoven, and with Lazic following suit, the evening would have been a total success. As it was, the 20-minute first movement dawdled along at seemingly half tempo, allowing the movement to lose any forward drive, any forward thrust. Lazic's nicely nuanced playing seemed well in sympathy with his podium colleague.But he could have provided those nuances with much more forward momentum, as demonstrated in an old Leon Fleischer/ George Szell/Cleveland Orchestra recording.

The second movement, the most beautiful Adagio Brahms ever wrote, came off better, its slow tempo a must here. This is a movement of ever shifting harmonies, somehow recalling late Beethoven, with whose work Brahms was undoubtedly familiar. Lazic's legato was spot on in the mostly soft passages, as well as in the dramatic outbursts.

Though the third movement, a sparking rondo, could have stood a faster pace, Urbański's choice did not detract from the movement as it had the first. Lazic's cascading octaves seemed excessively loud, as though he were pounding them with a hammer. Still, I look forward to hearing his approach to Brahms' Second--and Urbański's as well. Nov. 6; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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