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Beethoven: Symphony No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 1

Martha Argerich (piano); Mito Chamber Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa (Decca)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

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Beethoven Symphony No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 1
Martha Argerich (piano); Mito Chamber Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
Decca 4832566 60:41 mins

This live recording from the eye-catching Art Tower Mito pairs two first works in a genre by Beethoven, a concerto and a symphony, both in the bright key of C major. And, aptly, youthful zeal and delight characterise these performances throughout, with Seiji Ozawa conducting the nimble Mito Chamber Orchestra. In the First Symphony (1801) there are some rough edges – the very first chord has a raw pizzicato twang, for instance, and there are some blurry scales in the third movement. Yet Ozawa’s musicians sound as if they hugely enjoy playing this score, discovering it afresh – the tiptoeing intro into the bustling finale seems to be done with a winning smile.

But it’s the First Piano Concerto (written in 1795, revised, then published in 1801) that offers the real reason to hear this recording. From the piano, Martha Argerich spurs all the playing onto a different level. She and Ozawa spark off each other, and energy bubbles in the orchestra. As so often with her performances, her phrasing and articulation constantly surprise and illuminate, and while there’s always a sense of drive it’s not at the expense of playfulness or sheer glee in Beethoven’s writing. Argerich sparkles in the opening Allegro con brio, infuses the Largo with warmth and lyricism, and dispatches the final Rondo with rhythmic élan. It’s sympathetically recorded by the Decca team.

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Rebecca Franks