Brahms First Piano Concerto from Emmanuel Despax - plus some Waltzes

Brahms First Piano Concerto from Emmanuel Despax - plus some Waltzes

We've met Emmanuel Depax before on Classical Explorer (both Spira, Spera and his own The Sound of Music Fantasy), but here he presents a piece that is particularly dear to his heart - Brahms' First Piano Concerto, in a powerful recording with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Litton.

Here is the trealier, in which Despax explains why the piece means so much to him:

The rapport with the conductor, Andrew Litton, is clear everywhere. The symphonic nature of the piece demands a close link between pianist and conductor, and it is nowhere stronger than here. As we've seen with the disc Spira, Spera, Despax is one oft he great thinkers on music, and this reading is at once considered and exciting: considered in the careful balancing of textures, of each phrases' place within the whole; exciting through the very dynamism of the performance. The first movement revelas all of this. The BBC Symphony Orchestra on top form in that extensive operning orchestral tutti. Here's an excerpt:

Emmanuel Despax and Andrew Litton with teh BBCSO at Maida Vale

That first movement takes in the World, and Despax and Litton encompass that world wholly. As Despax says in the vidwo, we hear the struggle Brahms wants us to hear. Despax talks aout the visceral challenge of Brahms' writing, particularly the trills in the first movement. Interesting how the trills in the second movement, a glorious plateau of peace, take on a very different, somewhat transcendent, nature:

The finale is as exciting as one could wish, and again there are moments of illumination everywhere. The descending scale leading into a statement of the finale's theme every time it appears is like a descending carillon in Despax's hands; and how mysterious the string fugato in Litton's hands:

Throughout, Despax, a young man himself, reminds us that this is music from the pen of a young man - we might find shadows of Arrau in Despax's wonderfully warm sound (he plays a Fazioli) and traces of an analyst in the intelligence of the voice-leading, but the overal thrust is that of yourful impetuosity that can hardly be contained.

Photo of Emmanel Despax © Luca Sage

The arrival of the Waltzes is like a blaze of light, in the brilliant key of B major:

This turns out to be a much variegated journey; for the Waltzes, Despax is joined by his wife, the excellent pianist Miho Kawashima. Deliberately not telling us who is playing which part, this is a true meeting of like minds. Despax and Kawashima bring real tenderness to No. 15, the well-known A major (probably the best-known of the set):

And what extremes of delicacy there are in No. 6 in C sharp minor. It is impossible not to be enamoured of this performance; and what inspired programming!