LIKE much of Brahms, the D Minor Piano Concerto balances Romantic passion with classical restraint.
Neither conductor Christoph von Dohnanyí nor pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard strikes one as foremost a man led by his passions: rather they both give the impression of being European intellectuals.
It was therefore intriguing to see what they would make of the Brahms. In fact, heroic gestures were scaled down and the relationship between them was one of creative dialogue rather than explosive conflict.
The double-octave outburst in the first movement, for example, began almost interrogatively in Aimard’s hands. Aimard and Dohnanyí probed the concerto for poetic potential but what they shared with us was of a subtle nature. Dohnanyí’s handling of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony was in the same mould. If he’s not a conductor to wear his heart on his sleeve, nor does he allow himself much in the way of rhythmic flexibility. In fact, a good deal of the thematic material tends to be treated in a uniform way, to rather unrewarding effect.
His orchestral layout, however, with first violins, cellos and double basses on his left, seconds and violas on his right, yielded illuminating results, bringing out inner voices, while reinforcing bass lines. The Philharmonia played well enough for him but even players of this calibre need to be stimulated to produce something exceptional.