Piano Concertos Nos 4 & 6, arr. by the composer after the Violin Concerto, Op. 61a
Gianluca Cascioli (piano); Ensemble Resonanz/Riccardo Minasi
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902422 76:47 mins
As a pianist specialising in historically-informed performance, Gianluca Cascioli has form. His Chopin recording for Decca was founded on his research into historical recordings, plus testimonies from pupils and teachers going back to the composer himself, and the results of that research made illuminating listening.
For this new recording, Cascioli and his conductor Riccardo Minasi have chosen to depart from contemporary performance convention, using historical precedent as justification: first, in Beethoven’s day performance practices varied widely, with the composer noting down many variants to his Fourth Concerto as he encountered them; secondly, when he played it, he did so sehr muthwillig – ‘with the addition of many notes’. Cascioli and Minasi call on Czerny as witness that, in the second movement, piano and orchestra originally played at slightly different tempos with the piano always slower. And their aim throughout has been to calibrate the dynamics, so as to restore the balance of a period orchestra while using a modern piano.
The results are mixed, and so is the recording quality. The luxuriously arpeggiated chord with which Cascioli opens the Fourth is an attention-grabbing gesture, as is the sudden jolting silence before the start of the development – more suggestive of a disc fault than of an organic part of the performance. Although the pianism is finely articulated, the whole movement feels more like a string of loosely-connected thoughts: it has no sweep. Meanwhile the difference between the tempos of soloist and orchestra in the Andante feels factitious.
On the plus side, Beethoven’s transcription of his Violin Concerto for piano and orchestra here works well, after a necessarily weak piano entry – grace-notes can’t compete with the violin’s majestic opening; and the Larghetto has serene beauty under Cascioli’s sensitive leadership.