Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, Op. 15; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19
Elizabeth Sombart (piano); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Vallet
Signum Classics SIGCD614 70.22 mins
This is the first of three Signum Classics releases planned to encompass all the Beethoven piano concertos plus the Triple Concerto, played by the French pianist Elizabeth Sombart and directed by Pierre Vallet, both of whom it appears studied ‘musical phenomenology’ with the great Sergiù Celibidache. Of course the challenge of finding fresh insights into works that have already been recorded by just about every great pianist and conductor over the last century is a stiff one.
And these performers are not flattered by the dryish, small-hall ambience of the Cadogan Hall recording, which imparts a slight edge to the sound of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the more heavily-scored First Concerto, and it is difficult to determine whether the way solo passages marked piano in the score tend to sound mezzo forte is due more to the close-miking of the piano or the, at times, less than sensitive touch of the soloist.
Sombart is certainly dexterous and firm-toned, and the outer movements of these concertos go crisply enough. But it is something of a relief that she selects one of the shorter of the three cadenzas Beethoven sketched for the opening movement of the First Concerto rather than the rampaging monster that comprises the longest; and one has only to listen to the singing line a pianist of the poetic refinement of Murray Perahia brings to the slow movement to hear what is missing from the long, halting plod produced by Sombart and Vallet.
On the whole, these remain workmanlike rather than revelatory readings. Bayan Northcott