This is an unusual DVD: the performance of the Brahms Second is not taken from a conventional live concert; neither are the encore pieces. Everything here is, however, played live. In other words, what you get are live performances without an audience, and perhaps with retakes. Opus Arte rather modestly lists only the Brahms Second on the cover of the case, not itemizing the considerable bonus offerings.
Achúcarro plays accurately and sensitively, coming across in most performances as a bit restrained and thoughtful. His Brahms Second is solid and well shaped, with slower-than-usual tempos. At 53:12 it is one of the slowest Brahms Seconds I've encountered. Take note of these performances for comparison: Biret – 50:42; Barenboim – 49:00; Cliburn – 48:21; Jandó – 47:35; and a spate of others including Richter, Gilels, Serkin and Ilana Vered all come in well under Achúcarro's timing. Yet, Achúcarro's Brahms Second doesn't sound overly broad or unduly ponderous. That said, it doesn't set things on fire either. If you like a measured, epic Brahms Second, you'll find this one to your liking.
But what listeners might find of greater appeal are the extras offered here. The three Brahms Intermezzi are given a similar treatment, but since they are marked Andante and are generally serene in mood, the performances are even more effective. Achúcarro's Chopin and Scriabin are also quite convincing, and his Albéniz absolutely delightful. Some critics have found Achúcarro's rubato a bit much, but I don't find it a problem at all in these performances. His innate musicality, especially in the works of Brahms and Albéniz here, draw one's admiration.
The documentary on Achúcarro, which runs forty-one minutes, is very interesting, not least because it features commentary by Zubin Mehta, Placido Domingo, Simon Rattle and other notables. There are also snatches of performances by various artists, including of course Achúcarro himself. The camera work is excellent and the sound vivid. Clearly, there is enough here to heartily recommend this DVD by a man who, with the recent passing of Alicia de Larrocha, is probably the leading pianist from Spain.
Copyright © 2010, Robert Cummings.