Piano Concertos Nos 1-5
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Chandos CHSA 5273(3) 188:59 mins (3 discs)
This latest set in a year that threatens a surfeit of Beethoven piano concerto releases gets better as it goes along. Not that the first two concertos sound less than exemplary in the lucid vivacity of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s finger-work or the crispness and continuity he secures from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. But, as so often, the slightly forward recording of the piano relative to the orchestra sounds artificial compared to the integrated sound-image of piano and orchestra one might expect to hear in an actual concert hall. It also tends to bump up solo passages that are intended as really quiet; the touching little recitative swimming in pedal resonance that Beethoven marks piano at the end of the slow movement of the Second Concerto sounds nearer mezzo forte in this recording.
Yet, from his unusually urgent direction of the stern opening tutti of the Third Concerto, one senses that Bavouzet is also increasingly involved in the expressive character of the music. The perfectly poised delivery of the opening solo of the Fourth Concerto hints at a preparatory intensity of reflection and practice, and in the grandeur, sweep and spontaneity he brings to the opening movement of the Emperor Concerto one feels this pianist-conductor’s full powers are released at last – limited only, perhaps, by the relatively small-hall acoustic of the recording.
To all this, the little-heard Grand Quintet, Op. 16 – patently modelled on Mozart’s Quintet for piano and winds, K452, but with its own Beethovenian bounce in its finale – provides a civilised envoi.