Piano Concertos Nos 1-5
Stewart Goodyear (piano); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Andrew Constantine
Orchid Classics ORC100127 172:24 mins (3 discs)
Beethoven’s piano concertos are so different from each other that only the rarest of artists is likely to do full justice to all of them at any one time. Stewart Goodyear, Canadian-born and American-trained, presents his cycle in chronological sequence.
The First Concerto gives a fair perspective on what’s to come. Goodyear’s playing style is a masterclass in American-style confidence at its most likeable – free of any trace of brashness, with the quick outer movements full of engaging verve and articulated with immaculate clarity at every point. The downside shows in the central Largo: while there’s evident awareness of the music’s early-Romantic expressive depths, an over-insistence on outward Classical detachment seems to prevent these from coming across as they need to.
The mix of excellent and disappointing qualities in the Third Concerto is similar, as is the orchestra’s always classy response to Andrew Constantine’s conducting: he and they respond at their vivid best to moments of Goodyear artistry, like the beautifully poised halo of trills leading out of the first movement’s cadenza into a fiery piano-and-orchestra coda.
If the set’s major disappointment is the Fourth Concerto – far too cool in manner to convey the music’s sense of wonderment, in the slow movement especially – the triumph is a thrilling and magnificent performance of the Fifth (the ‘Emperor’) from all concerned. Goodyear here allows himself an extra range of expressive options of phrasing and colour – with such superlative results, in all three movements, that you can’t help wishing he’d approached the other works more like that too.