Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, op. 83

Twenty-two years passed between the composition of Brahms’s two piano concertos. He completed the D minor concerto in 1859 at the age of 26 and the B flat major concerto in 1881, at 48. The B flat major concerto received its premiere under the baton of Sándor Erkel (son of the composer Ferenc Erkel) in Budapest on 9 November 1881, with Brahms himself playing piano solo. Instead of the usual three-movement structure, the work has four movements with the scherzo as second. The start of the opening movement is unusual in that the horn intones the beginning of the main theme which is echoed by ‘improvisational’ passages in the piano. Next, the soloist suddenly interrupts the lyrical theme to play a long cadenza and only then does the orchestral exposition begin. A broad Baroque-style passage appears halfway through the passionate D major scherzo. Enchanting the listener with magical sonority, the B flat major slow movement is ‘framed’ by a long, expressive cello solo. The moderately fast ‘grazioso’ finale begins with a piano solo; the light, playful character of the movement is highlighted by the fact that, like in the slow movement, the orchestra lacks trumpets and timpani. The piano solo of the concerto is not as spectacularly virtuoso as the D minor one, but is perhaps technically considerably more challengeing.