Dejan Lazić is a young Croatian pianist and composer, born in Zagreb in 1977, and now living in Austria. This is a world premiere recording of Dejan Lazić's arrangement for piano and orchestra of the Brahms Violin Concerto, a labor of love that took six years to complete. The arranger is also the soloist on this Channel Classics recording, made in Symphony Hall, Atlanta with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under conductor Robert Spano. So I will comment on the merits of the arrangement itself as well as of the recording.
Transforming a violin concerto into a piano concerto is not without precedent. Bach and Beethoven did it before. But it is not an easy task, since the violin can play one two or sometimes three notes at time, while a pianist has ten fingers, and the piano's ability to sustain is not possible on the violin. So rather than an arrangement, we should think of this as a recomposition. While Bach was totally successful in his time, Lazić meets various levels of success at different points of the score. In the lyrical moments he can be extraordinarily successful, while at other times the balance between forces is not on a par with the original, and sometimes the piano part seems flat and abrupt.
Judging the arrangement separately from the performance is actually a very difficult job, since although Spano and the Atlanta Symphony provide solid support, I fear Lazić does not always do justice to his own score. In particular he fails to sustain some phrasing that he initiates, and taking too four-square an approach at other times. Turning to his YouTube performance of Scarlatti sonata I hear too much Lazić and too little Scarlatti. Excessive rubato and overzealous fortes inhibit the expression of music, and the sense of the long line is entirely missing. So it is also here in the Brahms. I hear power and passion, but the music tumbles from one episode to another without breathing or cohesion. The whole is less than the sum of the parts.
The same impetuous rush and exaggeration of contrasts is also a feature of the three shorter works for solo piano which conclude the disc. They are all magnificent pieces, and Lazić attacks them with a very powerful technique. But there is a magic missing from the performance of the Rhapsodies. Great Brahms interpreters such as Julius Katchen and Emil Gilels allow light to shine through the thick textures of Brahms' tonality and reveal the relationship between the parts far more clearly, making for deeply moving and communicative expression. Lazić is not in their class. I would love to hear a pianist of that calibre tackle this new piano concerto. Then and only then we should really have the measure of how successful Lazić the composer has been. Lazić saves the best for last with a profound performance of the forward-looking Scherzo Opus 4.
The quality of the recording is varied. On the live concerto performance, there are some extraneous noises and the piano lacks presence in the lower registers. The solo pieces are played on a different Steinway in Eindhoven, and sound altogether richer and more resonant.
This is not a recording I can strongly recommend, but I applaud the effort and I'm looking forward to hearing more as Lazić matures as both composer and pianist.
Enjoyment:Sound Quality: Concerto Piano Recital