Beethoven

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Emperor Concerto; Choral Fantasy
PERFORMER: Leif Ove Andsnes (piano, direction); Prague Philharmonic Choir; Mahler Chamber Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: 88843058862

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With this recording, Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra complete their impressive survey of the Beethoven piano concertos. Andsnes’s view of the Emperor  Concerto’s slow movement may strike some listeners as less contemplative and poetic than usual, and it may be that his interpretation of the piece will deepen over time; but it’s beautifully played, and it’s worth remembering that Beethoven qualifies his ‘Adagio’ marking with the words ‘un poco moto’, meaning that the music shouldn’t linger too much. Particularly notable in Andsnes’s performance of the first movement is the mysterious approach to the recapitulation, where he and the orchestra vividly convey the feeling of the music holding its breath.

The hastily written Choral Fantasy was designed as a grand finale to the notoriously demanding concert Beethoven gave on 22 December 1808, when he also presented the premieres of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and the Fourth Piano Concerto. The Fantasy is often thought of as a dry-run for the last movement of the Ninth Symphony, and it’s true that the two pieces have much in common. But the Choral Fantasy is a fascinating and appealing piece in its own right, and it’s good to hear it in a performance as accomplished as this. It’s remiss of Sony, though, not to have provided a text and translation, especially since the German diction of the Prague Philharmonic Choir isn’t as clear as it could be.

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Misha Donat