The fabulous Jean-Yves Thibaudet, lounging around in between concerto appearances
The piano concerto repertoire boasts so many amazing works – it’s hard to narrow it down to just ten. I know this is quite subjective a list – but it’s a starting point, and I’ll likely re-visit this, and create another list.
In the meantime, here are the top ten piano concertos you must hear, ideally live – check the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for updates!
1) JS Bach: Keyboard Concerto in A major, with Maria Joao Pires
Why: This is a picker-upper of a piece. It dances along, and makes me think of going for a walk in the park on a crisp autumn day, looking up, and seeing the rays of light flickering through the yellow leaves.
2) Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, with Seong-Jin Cho
Why: beauty and lyricism rule Mozart’s music, and this work is a ridiculously shining example of both.
3) Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, with Lang Lang
Why: Beethoven was a rule-breaker, and his music makes you feel like you’ve achieved everything. This concerto is called the “Emperor” for a reason. It even makes Lang Lang greet his audience like one.
4) Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor with Evgeny Kissin
Why: Schumann knows how to tug at the ol’ heart strings without getting too sappy. The pangs, the yearning, the unrequited stuff – it’s all there with moments of intensity and drive.
5) Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor with Alice Sara Ott
Why: the dramatic landscape of Norway’s fjords and crashing ocean waves are gorgeously depicted here – lots of raw drama and cascading passages.
6) Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor with Boris Berezovsky
Why: when you’ve had an emotionally rough time of it, it’s cold and miserable out, and you need to hunker down with a stiff drink, and even your dog won’t sit next to you, you need Brahms.
7) Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor with Yuja Wang
Why: you’ll recognize this one and it’s important to know the composer was Tchaikovksy! This is the ultimate “peacock” concerto for pianists: lots of big, thrilling chords, dramatic pauses, flashy piano parts, and dizzying double octaves.
8) Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major with Martha Argerich
Why: this zippy, over-the-top bravura piece is compact and powerful, like a sports car. Usually teenage pianists perform it to show off; veteran pianist Argerich plays it like today she would have – decades ago – because she can.
9) Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major with Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Why: Interesting shimmery textures and a lot of flirtation with jazz, which Ravel was intrigued by – and it was hugely popular in Paris and the States, where Ravel was heading on tour. Break out your martini shaker; cocktail time.
10) Prokofiev: Piano Concerto in C major with Alexander Toradze
Why: it’s brisk, prickly, sarcastic, lyrical and tense – like a stampede to chaos and anarchy. This one grows on you, so don’t worry if you’re not keen on it at first. Like green olives, this takes time to get used to.