Norman Krieger’s Brahmsian Reserve

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 8

The arresting intensity and individual profile distinguishing Norman Krieger’s 2007 Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 recording with JoAnn Falletta conducting the Virginia Symphony Orchestra doesn’t spill over into this more recent account of the Second concerto. To be sure, Krieger’s solid technique and well-modulated sonority hold their own against the music’s formidable technical demands. Interpretively, however, Krieger’s Brahms seems to have grown more reserved, and even cautious at times.

The angular phrasing, kinetic drive, and fervent dynamism characterizing Krieger’s octave outbursts in the First concerto are not to be found in his handling of the Second concerto Allegro appassionato’s urgent second theme and impassioned coda. Likewise, the Andante’s long-limbed accompaniments and rhetorical trills fall short of their expressive potential.

The first movement’s full-throated chords sacrifice power and shape for unambiguous accuracy. While Krieger meticulously spells out the arpeggiated left-hand chords relative to the right-hand octave triplets in the Finale’s piu presto coda, there’s little spring in his step, so to speak, compared to the unbuttoned abandon of the Buchbinder/Harnoncourt recording, just to cite one example. The diffuse orchestral sonic stage does not help matters, nor does Philip Ryan Mann’s unconvincing attempts to overly milk certain passages for expressive purposes, such as the cloyingly stretched-out unison strings in the Allegro appassionato.

Krieger’s innate affinity for Brahms’ piano style better reveals itself in the Piano Sonata No. 1, especially in the first two movements. While many pianists bang out the opening Allegro as if it were an orchestral transcription, Krieger projects Brahms’ frequent textural doublings in proper dynamic perspective, not to mention his astute attention to voice leading in the second theme (the pianissimo passage marked sospirando is a case in point).

The pianist sensitively spins out the Andante “Minneliede” movement, highlighted by his (for lack of a better word) “folksy” treatment of the third variation’s embellishments. The Scherzo isn’t so fiery and dynamically contrasted as it might be in an ideal world (why has DG kept Krystian Zimerman’s unsurpassed recording out of the catalog for decades?), but one must credit Krieger’s nuanced marcato touch. I wonder if the microphone’s unforgiving presence induced Krieger to tame the Finale’s “con fuoco” flames and underplay the composer’s relentless syncopations. Compare Krieger’s relatively small-scaled vision next to Julius Katchen throwing caution to the wind–it’s like hearing two different pieces. Given the impressive promise of Krieger’s earlier recorded Brahms outings, this disc, though certainly not bad, could have and should have been better.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Concerto: Buchbinder/Harnoncourt (Warner Classics); Freire/Chailly (Decca); Richter/Leinsdorf (RCA), Sonata: Katchen (Decca)

  • BRAHMS, JOHANNES:
    Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major Op 83; Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major Op. 1
  • Norman Krieger (piano)
  • London Symphony Orchestra, Philip Ryan Mann


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