Piano Concerto No.1 In D Minor, Op.15
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat Major, Op. 83
Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 118
“Virtuosity paired with a soulful sensitivity, that is how you could characterize Andrea Kauten’s congenial play.“
What excites Andrea Kauten most about the two piano concerts by Johannes Brahms are their great symphonic dimensions and depth of expressiveness, as well as the many Hungarian influences. On her latest recording, she has combined the two concerts on a single CD for the first time. In the process, the experienced pianist has engaged with the mindscape of the two concerts in completely new ways. At her side were conductor Timo Handschuh and the Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen.
“It has long been my heart’s desire to record both piano concerts by Johannes Brahms in one contextual frame. I can look back on countless experiences which help me open myself up even further to the essence of these works, which move me in my deepest core,“ explained Andrea Kauten in a conversation about her personal ambitions, which became concrete last year in the form of a recording project for the label solo musica (tonmeister/sound editor Sebastian Riederer) on occasion of the 125th anniversary of Johannes Brahms‘ death.
Especially the genesis of the first concert stands in stark contrast to today’s fame of this work as one of the significant master works of the 19th century. Originally, young Johannes Brahms had planned a sonata for two pianos, but abandoned this project and began considering a symphony, until finally settling on the form of a concert with three movements. However, at its premiere in 1859, the piece was a total flop. It overwhelmed the audience, which was stuck in its bourgeois expectations of complaisance („Gefälligkeit“), and it did not fit into the regimented templates of music critics who were judging musical art pieces at the time.
Today we can appreciate this episode as clear evidence of musical progress. That is exactly what the Piano concert Nr. 1 opus 15 in D minor stands for, as does the Piano concert Nr. 2 in B flat major opus 83, with which Brahms picked up the thread of a grand concert composition again twenty-two years later. Brahms thinks big in both concerts, bursting all limits. Despite highly precise adherence to form, sometimes reminiscent of chamber music and very densely written, Brahms expands the musical horizon beyond everything hitherto imagined. The traditional division of duties between brilliant solo piano and “accompanying“ orchestra seems overcome. The piano isn’t only always in the middle of the symphonic process, but also often emerges as a presenter of thematic ideas. The palette of emotional expression is also rich in contrasts, with the spectrum reaching from dark and dramatic to inwardly, almost spiritual psychic states. For Andrea Kauten, this is reason enough to engage with these compositions over and over again throughout her life and career, searching for new interpretory solutions every time. Here, to feel good in your own element marks the opposite of being in the comfort zone. Says Andrea Kauten: “Here, it takes a while for everyone to get into the flow. That is true especially for the extensive work on motifs. A big allure to me lays in gathering energies out of this state and feeling into every single note.“
The program is rounded out by pieces in a small, intimate format: Johannes Brahms dedicated his six piano pieces opus 118, composed in the year 1893, to Clara Schumann, with whom he had a very complex relationship for half of his life. Largely avoiding bombast and virtuoisty, these four intermezzi, one ballad and one romance appear as strongly introspective. They function as a musical and emotional life record. Clara Schumann felt deeply touched by the large amount of sentiment in this relatively confined space.
Andrea Kauten began playing piano at age seven. Her first teacher was Basel pianist Albert Engel. Already at age thirteen, she was among the finalists in the Jecklin-Musiktreffen in Zurich. A year later, she was awarded the first prize at the Swiss Jugendmusik-wettbewerb (youth music competition). In the following, she studied at the Music Academy Basel and finally at the internationally renown Franz Liszt Musik Academy Budapest, where she worked with Kornél Zempléni and Edith Hambalkó. At the Budapest training place of many globally known artists like András Schiff, Jenö Jandó or Ferenc Fricsay, she finetuned her highly romantic, yet controlled way of playing. In 1993, Andrea Kauten’s first recording featuring works by Franz Liszt, Carl Goldmark, and Sergei Rachmaninov was released. Since then, she has played concerts in many countries like the USA, Canada, Denmark, France, and Germany, and has recorderd numerous works from the Classical Romantic repertoire, preferably with the labels Sony Music and solo musica. Particularly noteworthy is one recording from the year 2021, on which she combines Chopin’s Préludes with Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition. In addition to her concert work, Andrea Kauten is the artistic director of a chamber music series by the Anneliese-Benner-Kraft Foundation in Schopfheim-Fahrnau (Southern Black Forest).
Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen
The Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen was originally founded as Schwäbisches Symphonieorchester in the middle of Reutlingen’s bourgeoisie. The orchestra undertook numerous concert tours with performances in the Berliner Philharmonie, Kölner Philharmonie (Cologne), Vienna Musikverein, in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Tonhalle Zürich, Stuttgarter Liederhalle, Alte Oper Frankfurt, Konzerthaus Dortmund, at the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Lucerne, Festspielhaus Salzburg and Festspielhaus Baden-Baden as well as at festivals like the Gustav-Mahler-Musikwochen in Toblach, the Beethoven-Festival in Warsaw or the Festival International de Musique in Besançon. Many noteworthy cooperations include renown soloists like Lang Lang, Thomas Hampson, Sabine Meyer, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Christoph Poppen, and Fazil Say. In addition to the Classical and Romantic concert literature, the Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen also engages with musical genres like jazz, as well as musicals and chansons, pop, latin and hip hop and organizes special performances for example featuring music from Turkey or the Jewish diaspora. Numerous CD and broadcasting projects document the artistic prowess of the WPR, among them many world premieres.
Timo Handschuh was born in 1975 in Lahr in the Western Black Forest region and already at age 17 started his own orchestra in his hometown. He first completed a church music degree at the Musikhochschule Stuttgart, thereafter his conductor/capell-meister studies, from which he graduated cum laude in 2004 from the Musikhochschule Freiburg. He was most inspired by his teachers Ludger Lohmann (organ) and Scott Sandmeier (conducting). Already during his studies, he was active in the Staatsoper Stuttgart. As musical assistant to general music director Manfred Honeck, he led more than one hundred performances at the Staatsoper. With the start of the 2011/2012 season, he was appointed to follow James Allen Gähres as general music director at the Theater Ulm. In addition to his work in opera, Timo Handschuh has never abandoned his concert activities, but rather has taught himself a large repertoire for directing chamber and symphony orchestras. In addition, in 2013 he succeeded Sebastian Tewinkel as artistic director and chief conductor of the Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim. In July of 2019, Timo Handschuh announced that he would not extend his contract as general music director at the Theater Ulm and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the City of Ulm beyond the 2020/2021 season. After a total of ten successful seasons, he wanted to “turn towards new artistic challenges.“