Dénes Várjon performs Beethoven’s piano concertos

'His spacious, lyrical account of the Fourth Concerto is a constant pleasure'

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COMPOSERS: Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Hungaroton
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1-5
PERFORMER: Dénes Várjon (piano); Concerto Budapest/András Keller
CATALOGUE NO: Hungaroton HCD 32757-59

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These generally fine performances get off to a slightly shaky start: in the opening movement of the First Concerto András Keller fails to draw any genuine fortissimo playing out of the orchestra, and the sforzando accents that are such an essential feature of the music’s character are likewise underplayed. As a result the piece is rather short on drama. However, there are compensations – notably Dénes Várjon’s splendid account of the long, weird and wonderful cadenza which Beethoven added many years after the event – and the remaining movements are altogether more satisfying.

In the central development section of Concerto No. 2 the wind players of Concerto Budapest capture the music’s air of subdued excitement admirably, and the similar atmosphere in much of the opening movement of the C minor Third Concerto (very properly taken in four beats to the bar, rather than the hurried two beats that often happens) is equally well managed. But Keller is again not scrupulous enough with his dynamics to convey the hushed quality of the fugato episode in the latter work’s finale, and the same is true at certain moments in the Emperor Concerto’s opening Allegro. On the other hand, Várjon is faultless in his observance of the dynamic markings in the finale of the Emperor, and his spacious, lyrical account of the Fourth Concerto is a constant pleasure. Certainly, there are recordings of these concertos that have a warmer orchestral sound, but the musical rewards here are considerable.

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Misha Donat