Any athlete, scholar, poet or scientist -- anyone who does anything difficult -- knows of those rare occasions when he or she is so deeply immersed in the task at hand that one surpasses the wildest expectations, performing absolutely at the top of one's abilities. It must have been at one of those times that William Shakespeare wrote "King Lear," that Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in the 1956 World Series and that Nelson Freire -- Saturday night in Meyerhoff Hall in the Baltimore Symphony's Summerfest -- performed Brahms' Concerto No. 2 in B-flat.
It must be said right off that the great Brazilian pianist -- under any circumstances -- would probably produce a superior performance of this Mount Everest of the concerto literature. Freire was born to play this piece. He has the technique to play at speeds at which other pianists risk sacrificing clarity and rhythm, not to mention the right notes. His tone is preternaturally beautiful and he has an artistic temperament -- a capacity for thinking in big lines, poetic imagination and emotional generosity -- that is well suited to Brahms.
But this was an unusual performance even for Freire. His playing was such that it seemed to transcend ordinary mechanics; as it must among the angels, thought seemed to call music directly into being.