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Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 3 (Bezuidenhout)

Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano); Freiburger Barockorchester/Pablo Heras-Casado (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 3
Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano); Freiburger Barockorchester/Pablo Heras-Casado
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902412   67:1 5 mins

Throughout his career, Beethoven enjoyed a complex dance with the piano manufacturers of his day. Their symbiotic relationship resulted in both compositions and instruments being expanded far beyond the technical limitations of the past. In this recording Kristian Bezuidenhout’s sensitive and nuanced playing on a modern copy of an 1824 Graf fortepiano taps into the extended reaches of Beethoven’s imagination. The cadenzas have improvisatory flair aplenty – including some genuine improvisation, notably in the finale of No. 3; the whispered, inward opening of that work’s slow movement is also deeply touching.

The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, however, accompanies the C minor Concerto with emotionally glacial, thuddy-drummed, razor-edged sounds, which appear all the more shallow and unsubtle when heard in contrast to the soloist’s free-flowing and poetically expressive artistry. No. 1 in C major comes off better: there’s a sense that the orchestra and its soloist are conceptually more at one – and occasional moments bring delight as Bezuidenhout joins in the orchestral tutti, especially in the first movement.

While the recorded sound manages to allow the fortepiano’s bright tone to stand out in a satisfactory way, the hectoring quality notable in some of the orchestral playing is not soothed by an over-resonant acoustic, which somewhat scuppers the potential for lightness and clarity.

Jessica Duchen

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