Daniel Barenboim has appeared as a pianist with all the Berliner Philharmoniker’s chief conductors since 1990. The works of Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms – both not only outstanding symphonic composers but also brilliant composers of piano concertos – form a common thread in this collaboration. Barenboim played Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto under the direction of Kirill Petrenko, and both of Brahms’s concertos together with Simon Rattle. At the 1994 Europakonzert in Meiningen, he played Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto alongside Claudio Abbado, which was followed by a performance of Brahms’s Second Symphony.
In this concert, only a few months after the Europakonzert, it was Beethoven and Brahms once again, but this time their roles were reversed – at least in terms of the title of the works: Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto is the only one of his solo concertos to comprise four movements instead of the usual three. And this is not the only reason why the “very small piano concerto”, as the composer ironically called it, resembles a symphony with piano. The strongly interlocking, often equal treatment of solo and orchestral parts also reinforces this impression. One of the most poignant themes is even performed by a solo cello, played here by Ludwig Quandt.
The fact that Beethoven’s music was among Claudio Abbado’s favourite repertoire is attested not least by his acclaimed performance of all the composer’s symphonies in Rome in 2001. The often rather neglected Eighth, which Beethoven himself allegedly considered more successful than the more famous Seventh, dispenses with an introduction and begins immediately in a spirit of forward momentum. Beethoven compensates for the lack of a slow movement with a charming horn duet in the trio of the minuet. In the outer sections of the piece, he baffles the listener with rhythmic jokes and deliberately “wrong” entries. The work concludes with a rapid movement that begins in triple pianissimo and ends with an almost parody-like triumphant finale.