Beethoven

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 73; Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111
PERFORMER: Nelson Freire (piano), Gewandhausorchester/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 478 6771

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This is the first instalment in a series of all the Beethoven piano concertos with these artists. It’s rather unusual to get a concerto and a sonata on one disc – you’d expect a couple of concertos. But the veteran Brazilian pianist believes in taking his time, and in an interview says that he has only played the First Concerto once in his life, which seems incredible.

Nelson Freire loves the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and hearing them on this form one can understand why. Riccardo Chailly’s recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies was praised in many quarters for making this great orchestra sound as if it were a collection of period instruments played by historically-minded instrumentalists. Here he seems to have realised that it would be inappropriate to accompany a rich-sounding Steinway in that style, and the kind of sound is much more traditional than in the symphonies.

All told it makes for a satisfying account of Beethoven’s leonine work. The evident rapport between Freire and Chailly is especially evident in the superb confrontation at the climax of the first movement, the orchestra challenging the soloist and receiving a thrilling riposte, followed by the long gradual calming on both sides. Freire doesn’t quite have the strength to stun at the opening of the last movement but it remains an invigorating account, one among many. The Sonata Op. 111 is fine too, though it wouldn’t be among my first choices.

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Michael Tanner