At first, the Gershwin Piano Concerto in F might not seem an obvious choice for a pianist such as Rudolf Buchbinder, a native of Vienna, the city of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and later Mahler and Schoenberg. Buchbinder won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque for his recording of the complete Haydn keyboard works. He has made live recordings of all the Mozart piano concertos and performed the cycle of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in more than 30 cities from Hamburg to Buenos Aires. But his love of jazz was born early. "With friends I formed my own jazz group and we used to play in the basement of the Hochschule für Musik where I was a student. We played every night and improvised for hours." These were not Buchbinder's university years, but his teenage years. At age five, he became the youngest student to be admitted to the prestigious conservatory.
Buchbinder considers the jazz idiom an essential element of Gershwin's style in ways comparable to certain Hungarian folk idioms in Brahms. "Of course, one finds the influence of the American folklore of jazz in Gershwin, but you almost always find the influence of the place and culture of where an artist grows up or lives. In this sense, Gershwin is as much a classical composer as Brahms or Tchaikovsky or Grieg. And I love this work; it is an absolutely perfect concerto."
Indeed, the Concerto in F is one of the most frequently played concertos in Buchbinder's repertoire. By his estimate, he has given more than 100 performances. Next October, audiences will hear him in performances of the music of another favorite composer, Beethoven, when Buchbinder returns to play the Piano Concerto in B-flat major, op. 19, as part of the New York Philharmonic's Beethoven Festival of the complete nine symphonies and five piano concertos. Although published as the Second Piano Concerto, it was written first, by a 20-something Beethoven. In both cases, Buchbinder finds Beethoven's early concertos to be wholly original, showing little relation to anything that came before, including the music of Mozart, except that "like Mozart, Beethoven was both a virtuoso as performer and composer."
Mario R. Mercado serves as Research Editor of Travel & Leisure magazine and is the author of The Evolution of Mozart's Pianistic Style.