Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Genzmer,Mahler
LABELS: Medici Arts
WORKS: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1; Mahler Symphony No. 1; Genzmer Suite in C for Piano – Presto
PERFORMER: Margarita Höhenrieder (piano); Staatskapelle Dresden/Fabio Luisi
CATALOGUE NO: 205 7718 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture ratio)

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This is an exhilarating disc, and in all respects. It comes from a tour by the great Dresden Staatskapelle, one of the orchestras in the world which retains a very distinctive communal sound, slightly rugged or even gritty, with sumptuous brass and lean strings, though one never feels them to be weak.

Still more exciting is Margarita Höhenrieder, a youngish pianist who I had never heard of before, but who delivers a fiery, subtle, spontaneous and noble account of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, in which she is truly in dialogue with the orchestra. It’s a joy to watch as well as hear the pleasure they are all taking in this familiar piece, and Fabio Luisi, their new chief conductor, is clearly delighted too. Höhenrieder plays an encore by an old friend – and there is also an informative, fascinating documentary about her, where she confirms the impression of a rather austere but musically vibrant personality.

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The second part of the concert is a fresh, invigorating account of Mahler’s First Symphony, one of those performances that make me wish he had written more like this before he began to write symphonies of double the length and pretension. There are passages in the first movement which – I have never noticed before – sound as if Humperdinck virtually lifted them for Hänsel und Gretel, and Luisi keeps the fairy-tale quality of the work in perspective throughout, even when the sub-Parsifal motifs of the last movement ring out. The Munich audience is rapturous and, with good recorded sound, so are we. Michael Tanner