“Ah Brahms…,” a venerable Boston Symphony Orchestra subscriber was once heard to murmur contentedly following a BSO performance of a Brahms symphony, “he’s so reassuring.” Not here. In fact, this is one of the least re-assuring, and most stimulating, performances of Brahms’ problematic concerto that I can recall. 

In his book Rough Notes Stephen Hough likens this work to “a symphony where piano and orchestra seem involved… in a titanic struggle, themes hurled across the stage with dramatic rhetoric,” and that much is evident here just five minutes into the opening Maestoso . Under Bolton, the introduction is a tragedy so vast and profound that a soloist seems barely necessary. Then with the piano’s first entry you realise that, up against Brahms’ dark, storm-tossed orchestral palette, Melnikov, ever-inquisitive, is playing not a modern concert grand but a restored Blüthner from Brahms’ time – in fact, from the year in which the concerto was premiered. 

This is not an instrument with the weight of tone a new piano...