Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 73 ‘Emperor’; Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 19
Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano); Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Pablo Heras-Casado
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902411 60.03 mins
These are invigorating performances of Beethoven’s first and last concertos, conveying an admirable sense of spontaneity. In the opening movement of No. 2 (actually composed before the C major work known as No. 1, but published after it) Kristian Bezuidenhout and Pablo Heras-Casado take the Allegro con brio tempo marking at face value, producing a glittering account that gives us an idea of the impression Beethoven’s own virtuosity must have made on his audiences.
This is his only concerto without timpani, but by playing along in the initial tutti Bezuidenhout contributes his own percussion part in a couple of bars of fortissimo octave Cs where the added piano notes sound like pistol shots. Bezuidenhout rejects Beethoven’s own much later cadenza, with its rather stilted fugal beginning, in favour of one that was improvised by Robert Levin for the recording he made with John Eliot Gardiner, and it makes for a refreshing change. The entire performance radiates energy and enjoyment.
Bezuidenhout treats the flourishes at the beginning of the Emperor Concerto with a good deal of freedom, lending them an appropriately improvisatory feel. The famous double-octaves passage at the centre of the piece is perhaps a little lacking in power, even on the fine copy of a fortepiano by Conrad Graf which he uses, but that’s partly because he makes the diminuendo too soon. It’s possible to feel, too, that he’s a bit sparing with the sustaining pedal right at the end of the movement, where Beethoven’s pedal marking is so insistent. But this really is exciting playing, and Bezuidenhout’s virtuosity is impressive.
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