Thanks a lot! The piano was a Steinway, so I really shouldn't complain too much, but it was old and not very well looked after. Mechanically it was very unbalanced, and the voicing was horrible, the bass mushy and the treble really hard. Finding the escapement was hard. And as so much of the piece is piano, it was a little challenging on such a piano loud by nature. And yes, there was a piano series of four concerts, and unfortunately they only tuned before the first. I was third in line, so I have to be content at least that it was less out of tune than for the person who followed!
But anyway, it could have gone better with more practicing. Finally I really didn't have time as I only retook the piano a couple weeks before the concert, and only had the idea to substitute Brahms 5 days before, when I was already in Switzerland and most of the time had access only to an electric piano.... It had been since 2005 since I'd looked at the Brahms, and so just getting it back into memory was my main worry. Anyway, the third I really wasn't pleased with, and I think it's definitely the hardest, both obviously technically, and musically. Keeping the sense that those punctuating chords are always upbeats is difficult, and something I'll have to think more about if I ever retake the piece with more time to think! With some clever shaping of the vibrations after those chords, I think it's possible to signal better to the listener where the bar line is. Plus it's so rhythmically repetitious, finding the right amount to play around with the rhythms to make it kind of swing is hard. To be honest, that movement I'm embarrassed to post, but just to complete the set I figured I'd go ahead.
I wondered if you might have a similar impression about the fourth: for me it is very introspective of course, but one of the pieces that to me expresses true religious sentiment. The final section is written "mezzo voce", which is I think very intriguing, as I've never seen that anywhere else (instead of the common sotto voce). So it's like a person not just whispering, but who only has half his voice, and who struggles to utter his last words. I imagine it doesn't really just mean play piano, but more play with a tone that has as few vibrations as possible, and not quite legato, as if dry in the mouth. So painful, yet hauntingly beautiful for me, especially that final hollowed out return in octaves of the opening theme, one last statement of hope, but completely inconclusive and uncertain. I didn't really manage it well this time around, and actually it only seems to really work in my mind so far... I'm convinced it's possible though! Finally it was these two pages that gave me the idea to substitute Brahms for Ives, who as you can imagine is really pretty polar opposite! The Brahms suited much better my mood and I thought I'd pull it off better (in addition to the fact it's technically much simpler..)
Your comment about the extreme hairpins is well taken. I think in the hall, which was quite small and intimate it was somewhat effective, as often I feel you can capture people's attention more closely with an ultra pianissimo than a blasting forte, but yes, it's also risky. At the moment at least I'm under the impression that this sort of sound is what the score suggests with its dynamic markings and phrasings, but on the other hand maybe starting with a fuller sound would have given more room to play without risk. I fell in love with these pieces a long time ago from Michelangeli's recordings, which I still think are unsurpassed, at least of those I'm familiar with, but I was surprised when listening again more recently that his piano is usually actually more what I'd consider mezzo forte (or perhaps this is just the way it was miked?). I don't think this is necessarily wrong, since of course shaping all these things is relative around the sound you're starting from, and maybe in the end it sings better that way. Perhaps it's a personal project recently to study playing within the boarders of sound, to try to find as much variety and gradation as possible, that I'm at the moment in the habit of taking it a little too far. This sort of thing often happens!
By the way, I just tested the links, and for me the second movement starts in the middle. Is that just me, or should I reupload that one?
YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/JohnClementAnderson