I leap straight in this year with the great Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire whose colour-coded, fantastical playing lifts even the most familiar music into undreamt realms of the imagination. Decca’s collection of Freire ‘Memories’ (‘The Unreleased Recordings, 1970-2019’, 4853136, 2 cds, c£14.00) is pure magic from start to finish. Even the pianist himself, not exactly the most boastful of players, rated his 1977 Frankfurt Radio SO reading of Brahms’s B flat Concerto under the much-underappreciated Host Stein as “quite special”. His excellent Gewandhaus recording of the work conducted by Riccardo Chailly (also for Decca), memorable as it is, isn’t quite on this level. And it’s not all down to Freire. Take the fiery second movement, where the soloist bounds in appassionato. On most recordings the sportive orchestral response somehow wants for impact, but under Stein every sinew punches and burns. This is powerhouse stuff whereas the Andante becomes a protracted, heavenly nocturne and the finale swings hither and thither with joyful abandon. Then there’s Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto from Stuttgart under Uri Segal (1972). Again, the conductor is pivotal: in the long tutti after the soloist’s solo opening, note how Segal subtly eases the pulse at 1:36, making you aware that we’re in for an evenly balanced dialogue where both parties are able to have their say. And so it proves throughout the set; in Richard Strauss’s commedia-dell’arte style Burleske (a concerto for Till Eulenspiegel?) under Zoltan Pesko (Baden-Baden, 1985), where poetry and playfulness happily coexist, and Bartók’s First Piano Concerto where Freire and Michael Gielen (Frankfurt, 1970) revisit this remarkable score’s eternal sense of newness, the gyrating, clock-like second movement especially. There are solo pieces too, all of them hauntingly memorable, and all treated to the same brand of flawless pianism. 

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