Boris Berezovsky performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat and Fantasia in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Simax
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat (Emperor); Fantasia in C minor
PERFORMER: Boris Berezovsky (piano); Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro/ Thomas Dausgaard
CATALOGUE NO: PSC 1285  

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Beethoven’s hurriedly-composed Choral Fantasy has often been dismissed as little more than a dry-run for the last movement of the Choral Symphony. There are indeed striking similarities between the two pieces, both in their theme and the manner of its treatment. Yet the Choral Fantasy is a fascinating work in its own right: an amalgam of concerto, variations and cantata, with the whole thing preceded by a piano improvisation which Beethoven only wrote down after the work’s premiere. Boris Berezovsky gives a rather impatient account of those opening pages, disregarding the ‘hairpin’ decrescendos of the initial phrases which are such an important ingredient of their drama. But the main portion of the work is much more successful, and as fine a performance as you are likely to find.

That isn’t the case, alas, with the Emperor Concerto. The opening piano cadenzas are again hastily dispatched, and the finale is sometimes seriously lacking in weight. Berezovsky is also stingy with the pedal throughout, ignoring Beethoven’s pedal marking at the end of the rondo’s famous cadenza with timpani, where the composer wanted the sound of the E flat chords to linger and resonate. The performance isn’t helped by the piano’s lack of brilliance, and by the distantly balanced orchestral violins. Though the text of the Choral Fantasy is no literary masterpiece, it would still have been nice to have had it reproduced in the accompanying booklet.

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Misha Donat