Written between his Violin Concerto and Third Symphony, Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto takes the last two concertos of Beethoven (or, at least, their openings) and knocks them together. First, there’s a version of the quiet opening of Beethoven’s Fourth – though, in Brahms’ case, the piano has to share the glory with the principal horn – and that’s followed by a virtuoso cadenza like the one that begins the fifth concerto of Beethoven; and, again like the elder composer, Brahms then launches into a big(ish) introductory orchestral tutti.
This concerto is the longest work that we’ve considered to date, coming in at approximately 50 minutes. Part of the reason for this extra length is that, unlike most, Brahms’ second concerto, has a symphonic layout, with four movements rather than the concerto norm of three; the interpolated second movement (Allegro appassionato) being a scherzo. The combination of the length and the severe technical demands that the composer imposes on his soloist makes this work a real test of virtuoso stamina!