Masters' heavenly sounds

This edition of eight discs follows in the series of box-sets highlighting great recordings and symphonies by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra through the decades.

Instead of obviously popular piano concerto recordings, it opts for variety and several surprises.

The earliest recording dates from 1953 and 1954, with almost-forgotten Hungarian pianist Andor Foldes performing both of Liszt's concertos and Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto (with Leopold Ludwig conducting).

Despite monaural sound, these are commanding and memorable readings.

Also unexpected but enjoyable are Mozart's Concertos for Two and Three Pianos with the Labeque sisters and conductor Semyon Bychkov, who doubles as the third pianist.

Great pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim appears in both Chopin concertos with Staatskapelle Berlin (directed by Andris Nelsons) in somewhat stolid live performances from the 2010 Ruhr Piano Festival, which does not exactly qualify as being "in Berlin".

  • CLASSICAL

    PIANO MASTERS IN BERLIN

    Great Concertos

    Deutsche Grammophon 4835057 (8 CDs)

    4.5 stars

The truly great classic disc here is Emil Gilels' towering and majestic take on Brahms' Second Piano Concerto (with Eugen Jochum), with Brahms' Seven Fantasias Op. 116 as a generous bonus.

Geza Anda and Herbert von Karajan contribute the popular tandem of Schumann and Grieg, while Maurizio Pollini and Claudio Abbado account for Beethoven's Third and Fourth Piano Concertos (the latter with Beethoven's rarely heard alternative cadenza).

Li Yundi's finest DG recording is also here, coupling Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto and Ravel's Piano Concerto In G Major, led by Seiji Ozawa in 2007.

Not to be left out, Martha Argerich is imperious in Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, her 1994 account with favourite partner Abbado.

The filler is Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite in a slick two-piano arrangement by the late Cypriot pianist Nicolas Economou, also the second pianist.

For piano fanciers, this classy compilation is manna from heaven.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2019, with the headline 'Masters' heavenly sounds'. Print Edition | Subscribe