The Beethoven Journey, Vol. 1

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Sony Classics
ALBUM TITLE: The Beethoven Journey, Vol. 1
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 3
PERFORMER: Leif Ove Andsnes (piano/director); Mahler Chamber Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: 88725420582

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This is Leif Ove Andsnes’s first Beethoven recording, though from the thoroughly idiomatic nature of his performances it’s clear he has lived with this repertoire. It’s an all-round winner of a disc, with superlative playing from both soloist and orchestra, and a recorded sound to match. Andsnes’s view of the music is fairly traditional, though his tempo for the finale of the Concerto No. 3 in C minor is a notch faster than that of many other pianists, and its scintillating presto coda whips by. In the slow movement of the same work, Beethoven’s markings indicate that he wanted the music saturated in pedal. You could argue that on a modern concert grand those markings should be taken with a pinch of salt, but it’s clear that a certain blurring of the harmonies was intended – making the piece, in a remote new key, sound as though it comes from another world. Andsnes’s pedalling is a shade cautious, but he plays the piece so beautifully that there are no grounds for complaint.

Beethoven’s cadenzas for his first three Concertos were written long after the event, once deafness had cut short his own career as a virtuoso pianist. In the First Concerto’s opening movement, Andsnes uses not the weird and wonderful cadenza that’s become fashionable in recent years, but the composer’s more modestly proportioned alternative. Overall, this looks set to be a highly enjoyable journey.

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Misha Donat