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Wiener Philharmoniker
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There is perhaps no other musical ensemble more consistently and closely associated with the history and tradition of European classical music than the Vienna Philharmonic. In the course of its history, the musicians of this most prominent orchestra of the capital city of music have been an integral part of a musical epoch which due to an abundance of uniquely gifted composers and interpreters must certainly be regarded as unique.

The orchestra's close association with this rich musical history is best illustrated by the statements of countless pre-eminent musical personalities of the past. Richard Wagner described the orchestra as being one of the most outstanding in the world; Anton Bruckner called it "the most superior musical association"; Johannes Brahms counted himself as a "friend and admirer"; Gustav Mahler claimed to be joined together with the orchestra through "the bonds of musical art"; and Richard Strauss summarized these sentiments by saying: "All praise of the Vienna Philharmonic reveals itself as understatement."

Current album


Artists Igor Levit, Christian Thielemann, Wiener Philharmoniker

Release Date: 10/04/2024

Sony Classical announces the new recording by Igor Levit, Christian Thielemann, and the Vienna Philharmonic of Brahms’s two Piano Concertos. The release is a triple album with Levit’s long-anticipated recording of Brahms’s late solo piano works. As a special encore, Levit and Thielemann play a Brahms waltz together. The album will be released internationally on October 4 and is available for pre-order now. Additionally, the “Andante” from Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, op. 83, is out now.

“Feel-good vibes effervesced, while applause resounded around the stage: that’s amore!” This is how the Viennese newspaper Der Standard described the audience’s enthusiastic reaction after Igor Levit, Christian Thielemann, and the Vienna Philharmonic performed Brahms’s First Piano Concerto at Vienna’s famous Musikverein in April 2024: “During these fifty minutes, an irresistible dose of emotion was conveyed – but at the same time the sophisticated structure of Brahms’s masterpiece remained crystal-clear.” Levit and Thielemann had already performed the Second Piano Concerto with the same orchestra in December 2023; the headline in Die Presse at the time ran: “Igor Levit sets a new gold standard for Brahms.”  

These two concertos make up the first joint recording by Levit and Thielemann, which will be released as a triple album with Levit’s recording of Brahms’s well-known solo works opp. 116–119. Levit’s and Thielemann’s first meeting was quite unplanned, although both had been curious about each other for a long time. In 2015, Levit spontaneously stepped in for a colleague who had fallen ill and performed Mozart’s C major Concerto K 467 with Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden in Munich. Despite an extremely short rehearsal period, the two hit it off straight away: “We have such a similar way of thinking that it is not necessary to discuss many things,” says Thielemann. And Levit adds: “When the piece begins, I simply have complete confidence in you. I know I can’t take a wrong turn. Having such unconditional trust is extraordinary.” 

The two do not have to discuss individual passages – a common understanding is attained without the need for words, simply through listening and responding. Instead, they prefer to talk about performers and composers. And they are always amazed to discover how similarly they perceive so many things. Sometime after their initial meeting, it was during a walk together near Berlin that the conversation turned to Brahms – and thus they conceived the plan to record the two piano concertos as part of an upcoming Brahms cycle with Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic. “I’ve known the Wiener Philharmoniker for thirty-five years,” says Thielemann, and adds: “I’ve always been fascinated by how this orchestra can react to conductors and assimilate even the smallest details. And then there is the concert hall, the Wiener Musikverein, with its acoustic properties that Brahms knew so well.” “And what a sound!” Levit exclaims. “I was sitting in the first rehearsal and the horn began to play. You do not really want to start playing, but rather to say to the hornist: Can you please play that again? It was so beautiful.” For Levit the addition of Brahms’s beloved solo works opp. 116–119 on the album just felt right. Levit says: “Brahms’s music cannot leave you untouched. It’s just physically and emotionally not possible. Take op. 118 no. 2, for example, it’s like an arrow shot straight into your heart. It’s simply the most beautiful, touching, and tender music imaginable.”  

The album concludes with a special encore – the four-hand rendition of Brahms’s charming Waltz op. 39 no. 15 played by Levit and Thielemann. Levit explains: “It’s taken me some years to get to the point of having the courage to play and record this music, and Christian Thielemann has been instrumental in getting me here. Unlike Beethoven’s music, where you go emotionally from peak to bottom almost continuously, here Brahms is often the steadiest of music, with very long breaths and a steady heartbeat. Now that I feel right placed with this music, you couldn’t find me happier than I am right now.” 

Photo credit: Amar Mehmedinovic