Brahms originally intended his Piano Concerto No. 1 as a symphony and he extensively reworked his ideas before setting down the work in the form as we know it today. The composer’s original intentions still shimmer through however, for the work goes far beyond mere concertante playing and a display of virtuoso brilliance by the soloist. The first movement in particular, with its relentless, threatening main theme, embodies Brahms’s dramatic symphonic writing and even a conciliatory secondary theme offers no relief for it too must give way to the heavy, fateful initial theme.
The passionate and grandiose opening movement is followed by an Adagio full of tranquillity and quiet devotion; the solemn atmosphere is taken to exalted heights by the soloist and orchestra only to fade out pianissimo.
Although the forceful, belligerent Finale occasionally conjures up the dark powers of the first movement, the work ends in a confident and cheerful vein.
It is amazing how the sheer presence of the emotions in this composition have been captured on the present DECCA recording from 1962. This is not only true of the gripping interpretation but also of the recording itself which remains transparent and brilliant throughout.