Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos 4 & 5
Nicholas Angelich (piano); Insula Orchestra/Laurence Equilbey
Warner Classics 9029563417 74:16 mins
Given the competition, you need good reason to issue yet another recording of Beethoven’s last two piano concertos – and this group has one. This is a period-instrument performance, but with a difference: the piano, a fastidiously restored 1892 Pleyel, not the usual underpowered fortepiano, was chosen for its ability to project across a modern concert hall, while possessing a sonority evoking what might have been the character of its original performance. Its sound melds satisfyingly with a small orchestra playing on gut strings and with period wind instruments.
The opening chords of the Fourth Concerto usher in what feels almost like chamber music, so intimate is the sound; Nicholas Angelich’s articulation is refined, and the upper register of the piano has a crystalline quality. Thanks in part to Laurence Equilbey’s light and flexible touch, piano and orchestra sometimes seem like a single entity; the heaven-versus-hell Andante is gracefully restrained, and the Concerto as a whole exudes charm. Yet the opening of No. 5, the Emperor, is as heroic as one could wish, with the Pleyel providing bags of power, and with Angelich making something dramatic out of even his scalar sweeps up and down the keyboard, thanks to its gradations in tone-colour. Angelich’s pianism is always a pleasure, and here it casts a lovely spell.