The friendship between Brahms and Schumann was tragically shadowed by mental illness.
Only a year after Brahms came to Dusseldorf to meet the older composer, Robert Schumann had to move into a mental asylum. For the next two years Brahms was a regular visitor to Schumann in the asylum. It was no doubt a painful privilege; one that Schumann's beloved wife Clara was not granted. Brahms became their intermediary - Clara would see her husband only once more, two days before his death.
Inevitably the friendship between Clara and Brahms deepened, and Brahms became ever more closely bound to his best friend's wife, a woman who was clever, beautiful and superbly gifted as a pianist. There is no evidence that their relationship was ever more than a friendship, but the situation seemed hopeless.
One thing Brahms could do was write a piano concerto. And if this concerto feels as though the music is fighting a mighty battle, it is not hard to see why. It's become fashionable to describe nearly everything as 'a journey', but this concerto is definitely a journey, a profound record of one man's struggle to move from despair to hope.
Michael Houstoun (piano), with Orchestra Wellington conducted by Marc Taddei.
Recorded 7 July 2017, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert.
Producer: David McCaw
Engineer: Graham Kennedy
Notes: Erica Challis