Johannes Brahms’s works have been part of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s core repertoire since the orchestra’s founding. In 1884, the composer himself appeared as soloist in the First Piano Concerto and conducted his Third Symphony with the ensemble, at that time still under the name “Philharmonisches Orchester”. Like his predecessors Hans von Bülow, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado, as chief conductor of the Philharmoniker Sir Simon Rattle has also regularly programmed the composer’s symphonies and orchestral works. The first recorded cycle was released on CD in 2009, followed in 2016 by a second on vinyl, recorded in the sensational direct-to-disc process.
As part of the season focus on Brahms, both the Second Symphony and the First Piano Concerto were presented in November 2008. With the concerto, Brahms celebrated his debut as the composer of a large orchestral work relatively late, in 1859. A difficult and circuitous compositional process had preceded it. Initially planned as a sonata for two pianos, the material was to be reworked as a symphony before it acquired its final form. The composer, who was still inexperienced in the art of orchestration, asked his friend Joseph Joachim for advice several times. This period of his life was marked by the illness and death of Robert Schumann and Brahms’s deepening friendship with Schumann’s wife Clara.
Although the premiere in Leipzig, with Brahms at the piano, was a failure, the music world was quickly convinced that the composer had produced one of the most important, “most symphonic” works of the genre. The soloist in this performance was Lars Vogt, with whom the Berliner Philharmoniker have worked closely for many years and who served as the orchestra’s Pianist in Residence during the 2003/2004 season.