Your favourite Piano Concerto [and a short why]

Here things become a little more tricky: the great repertoire is wider is style and character. More, differently from the Violin Concertos, the piano may express the composer’s feelings and their relation with the listener’s more accurately. I’ll welcome with curiosity also un-favourites (if the word exists).

So, that’s me.
Having studied accurately about ten of the 27 for my work, I have a slight bias towards Mozart’s: for reasons unrelated to me or my emotional response, rather to the perfection of the use of material, the orchestration, the balance of the form. My preferences are so varied and probably non obvious: the Kv467 in C rather than the so-called ‘pre-sturm-und-drang’ Kv466 in d minor, whose slow movement, with its repetition of the impetuous triplets section I find a little insistent and not necessary to express Mozart’s more emotional moments. What I admire in the concert is that all the material - first and second theme, etc. - of the first movement, including the orchestral introduction, is derived and developed from a single basic motive, which is not unusual with Mozart but is with the epoch.
The Kv488 for the freshness of the 1st movement and the marvelous melancholy - true melancholy - of the Adagio.
The last one, Kv 595, because it’s it, that’s all.

I confess a slight indifference for Beethoven Piano Concertos proportionally increasing with their ordinal number: the 5th, ‘Emperor’, is to me a boring and very trivial use of the splendid Eb Major key, and its stiff and celebratory character cannot have come out of the same man who wrote the Diabelli variations. Where is the sarcasm, the thrill to provocate and laugh about the audience’s response? The 4th is for me the same mystery as the Allegretto from the 7th Symphony: I see why everyone loves it, but it bores me and I can’t do a thing about it. The first three I like a lot: I need the more fresh, stingy, spontaneous, less reflective Ludwig; let’s leave the Frowning Titan for the Reader’s Digest style books.

I love Brahms’ 1st in spite of not being the greatest Brahms’ fan: wherever there’s spontaneous beauty and tenderness, I am with the author. The main piano motive entrance is irresistible; the ‘dramatic’ sections are a Brahms’ by-product that cannot be avoided, the man was too fearful of being left behind and down by history had he avoided trying to retain Beethoven’s (misunderstood) legacy. Bruckner did, instead, and he became the true bridge between 19th and 20th century.

I love the Schumann Concerto because of its authentically Romantic, spring-melancholic but lighthearted character; but it needs a player who gets the deepest and truest of it.

Now the bunch of the Romantics: Čaikovskji, Grieg, Rachmaninov, Dvořák : once per year is enough. As for Dvořák, allow me a comparison with those teams who always linger in the upper end of second division but never get to reach first one: if you listen to his first two Symphonies, the ‘Aus der Neue Welt’ sounds like John Williams in comparison.

America may have spoiled Dvořák, but not Bartók: a special mention for his 3rd Piano Concerto and the sublime second movement.

So, sorry for the long and opinionated post: I’ll do my choice - Mozart’s Kv271, 488 and 595, mixed in a single one.


Horowitz, Rachmaninov no3, Mehta.
Why? 3 giants together.

thanks. But don’t you feel cold in their giant shadows?


I can listen to cold old Rachmaninov anytime.


in part, I too. I was joking because fatality has it that not Horowitz nor Mehta are among my favourites - but then, it’s my opinion only. Rachmaninov is better at Nos 2 than 3 in my opinion; bot for the concerto and the symphony.

Now I am curious to see if someone else will have time to give his/her opinion; I expect Čaikovskji to do well, and I also expect Mozart (not exactly a giant, I believe he must have been something like 30 cm. lower than Rach :slight_smile:) to do so&so. We’ll see. It’s very interesting for me to slowly trace a relation between music taste and Naim ownership. I think it is a more meaningful datum than it could be suspected.


I know you meant this as derogatory, but I’d take it as praise. Williams hasn’t written a piano conc (yet…), but if you can overcome any residual prejudice I strongly recommend his violin conc. Its style might surprise you if you are only aware of his more commercially successful work.

But I digress. As for piano concs, Mozart 20 if you forced me to choose just one, though I shudder to think what dreadfulness would precipitate such a choice.

Mozart’s 20 to 23 inclusive represent some of his most sublime work, and yes, I realise what a strong statement that is. Truly touched by God.


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For me it has to be Rachmaminov 3. So many notes which I just love and the soaring melodies especially in the last movement. “An old softy perhaps?”
I can recall Alfred Brendel thought he was OTT. I suppose that’s right but that’s why I like it.
Runners up, which is a bit unfair perhaps. We all have favourites. See below.
Greig. Blame my father. Brahms 2, start of slow movement. Tchaikovsky 2, neglected. Ravel , orchestration, a master of colour. Gershwin for his take on Ravel and so “modern” even now.
I like the Benjamin Britten played by Richter. Nice Decca recording and analogue.
Back to Rachmaninov and Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini. A piano concerto in all but name. i have a Proms broadcast from BBC 4 TV with Stephen Hough. Didn’t know hands could move that quick.
Suppose I must have more than one favourite. PS: Phapsody in Blue, him again.


Many thoughts here. Way too much to put in writing, but here is a small subset of them.

As you maybe remember, my background is the organ. Proud I was as a kid when my father took me to his lessons and I remember well the Toccatas, Bachs Triosonatas and the everlasting Passacaglia. Great was the day my own teacher took me to the St. Matthew Passion. Some of my familymembers had a piano, real pianos - not these plasticky keyboard which are scattered over the households these days. Despite they were real pianos, and my familymembers played on a good level - remember my cousin playing Beethoven Sonatas, I more or less looked down on the Piano and their players.

It was in 2001 and I was still living with my parents that I had a project in Birmingham in the UK and was in my hotel room. Switched on the telly and what I saw was a pianist playing on a grand piano the Fugue in C-sharp minor, Bach. Since then I knew that Bach and piano can work together well. I bought the WTC and Goldberg variationen played on piano and listened a lot to them in my early twenties.

But Bach is Bach and is never easy. My mind always switches on when a piece of Bach is played and sucks up all my attention. My work, or a simple conversation with someone else is not possible when I listen Bach.

The good old lady from the cd store in my place sold me a cure: Brendels performance of the Piano Concertos by Mozart. Now that cd box was value for money. Back in the day I realized that I could work whilst listening to the music and growing in taste (if I may say that) I have come to understand the greatness of Mozart.

All these concertos are just right. Mozart seems to be the master of tension, precisely right. A very simple theme can apparently grow to an entire composition. Mozarts piano concertos are also appreciated by everybody in my family. For me it is great music, but the kids / wife do also appreciate it. Some music - my beloveth Bruckner - is just too much for them. E.g. my wife freaks out when I listen to Bruckner 9.

I have listened to Haydns and CPE Bachs Organ Concertos in my child days and I think that prepared the way for Mozart.

I can appreciate Beethoven coming from Mozarts piano concertos, but I cannot appreciate Beethoven without having Mozart in mind. Weird, but that is what I reflect currently.

Sorry to say that I don’t have a favourite (yet), a few months ago it was Concerto 13, but I tried yesterday again and whilst I did appreciate it, I cannot say that I appreciate it more than e.g. Concerto 21.

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yes, I had his Star Wars line production more than other types of music. I am one who still draws a line (and I quietly believe I have reasons for thinking so) between music written to be heard closely together with moving images and music written to be listened to. Since I do not wish to show prejudices or ignorance, I’ll have a listen at his violin Concerto immediately. This notwithstanding, I still think that John Williams is an awfully skilled technician of composition, but what I’ve heard so far hasn’t told me a iota on the man, but rather on his capacity to complete optimally the director’s view. Nice work if you can get it (and if you have the gifts for it) but I suspend judgment until I’ve heard the violin concerto.
Next time I’ll quote John Rutter instead of John Williams…
Re: Mozart. I understand perfectly the worldwide love for his Kv466; I simply told why I prefer others, trying to add some fact in support rather than staying at the ‘it raises my arm’s hair’ level. It is nothing but my opinion, and as for gear, pardon the comparison, so it is for music. Each to his own, intended in the best and most respectful way.

Thanks for your answer,


thanks, I understand completely most of what you wrote and I share it in full.

As for Bruckner, the problem is that since his ‘re-discovering’ the largest part of recordings of his Symphonies have been done by conductors who didn’t understand anything about him and his music. I must thank (and I do it frequently, in my heart) Celibidache’s lessons and seminars, concerts and occasional meet-ups if I have had any chance to hear Bruckner without any hint of misunderstood Wagnerian leftovers and that trace of Hitler-Jugend style which is often present in some readings, where a pseudo late Romanticism is hyper underlined and the pure, innocent greatness of his musical and structural beauty is buried under false ideas.
It is enough to compare Celibidache’s and Karajan’s Eight Sympony’s last movement to tell a genius from a movie star. But, again, I am trying not to let my opinions steal space to facts.

Thanks indeed for your email. I very much welcome your thoughts into my my mental home.




I have some recording by Stephen Hough. Many new younger performers are slowly (unavoidably!) replacing the myths of the great Recording Era. You can’t stick with the Backhauses and the Schurichts for centuries…
And, what I think is very important, if we remove the enormous amount of ‘greatness’ that the record industry has added to many performers’ own authentic skills, we discover that many young players do in fact study scores and over-performed pieces afresh, with a new perspective and very accurately getting rid of ‘tradition’, and this can finally bring to unexpectedly renewed treasures.


I was surprised to read a description of the Emperor here that included the words “stiff and celebratory character” and also bemoaned the lack of sarcasm and so on. Maybe it’s down to the interpretation as there is nothing stiff about the version by Fellner/Nagano. It has, particularly in the last movement, a nice dose of humour in the calling and answering sections. Other players/conductors do not make much of the humour in this piece but these two certainly do. There are many grand and pompous versions about so maybe the writer has only heard those, but this one is joyful.

By the way, I find Brendel’s versions of the Mozart Piano Concertos a bit stiff. So I guess we are all different in how we react to these things. :slight_smile:

My first introduction to live music was a trip to the Festival Hall with my parents to see/hear Mantovani. We sat behind the orchestra and watched him as well as the guy playing the xylaphone.
The second trip was a performance of Pictures from an Exhibition by Muss/Ravel. We had good seats and I was smitten. All that scraping, blowing and hitting things could produce such a great sound.
Mantovani has recenly been on Channel 8, lunchtime, in B/W, 4 x 3 format. Must be 60 years old. Another era.
Bruckner 8. Writes music in paragraphs. Saw Rudolf Kempe a couple of years before he died. Impressive to say the least.

I’ve heard Till Fellner in duo with the late Heinrich Schiff in the Mozarteum Hall in Salzburg, playing Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, Pärt’s Spiegel I’m Spiegel and Webern’s Six little pieces. I was impressed by how good he was already (I’m talking 1998 or so) and how Schiff managed to phrase the main theme of the Arpeggione in a total different way from how Fellner had introduced it. I still have to decide if it was a sensible or foolish thing. But Fellner was perfect, then, as ‘accompanist’.

I’ll listen to Him/Nagano in the Emperor Concerto, trying to forget the Emperor and concentrating on the Beethoven, but I still remain of the opinion the his first three Concertos are more worthwhile than the last two.

Opinions only, of course.


I’ve taken a short listen at both 4th and 5th Concertos on PrestoClassical (nothing on YouTube), and I understand perfectly what you wrote. I think that apart from the lightness, transparency and total lack of ‘pomp’ in the sound of both piano and orchestra, something owes to what Ardbeg10y wrote:

I can appreciate Beethoven coming from Mozarts piano concertos, but I cannot appreciate Beethoven without having Mozart in mind.

Anyway, for the little I could catch, I agree with you on the novelty and beauty of these serene-humored performances. I’ll keep the album in mind for the day I’ll reconcile my minuscule ego with Ludwig’s last two Concertos.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question posed by Max in this thread, but unfortunately duties elsewhere have taken up so much of my time I’ve not had much chance to properly reply. There are so many wonderful piano concertos, but how to narrow it down to a favourite? So hard!

I do love Rachmnaninov’s Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3, and indeed, the last piano concerto I went to hear live was the 3rd last year. It could easily be “Rach 3”. But there is a concerto that’s a favourite of mine and also my Mother (one she heard played live on a couple of occasions in her youth in Bournemouth) and that’s the delightful Concerto Symphonique No. 4 in D minor by Litolff. I happened to hear a snippet of the scherzo played on the radio a few days ago while driving my mother to town and it was wonderful to see her in raptures of delight and then telling me about her boyfriend at the time who was a fan and who took her to hear it played in Bournemouth all those years ago.



thanks for the lovely story that surrounds this Concerto, shamefully unknown to me (although I am more or less familiar with a few works by its author).
I’ll listen to it or to samples, (I don’t buy Cds anymore but have a great resource in a) raiding my friends’ CDtheques and b), PrestoMusic, which has a rich an interesting catalogues of classic and new offers.
It’s always a pleasure - more and more rare, sadly, as time brings so few new things and leaves you with so many used old ones - to discover a new gem.


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