Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 3

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Ambroisie AMI
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 3
PERFORMER: François-René Duchâble (piano);Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: AMI 99403002, 99403004 (2 discs each; distr.
By the time you read this, François-René Duchâble (if he keeps to his word – see People, September) will have given his final public performances and destroyed two of his pianos – not so much fed up with music as with the business of music. These DVDs, he says, will be his last recordings, and these concertos (with Nos 2 and 4 promised soon) aren’t a bad farewell. Technical values are superb, with high-definition pictures, unfussy visual direction and clear, well-balanced Dolby 5:1 surround sound, plus the option of DTS.


The performances themselves are clean and lithe, with an orchestra of about 40, and some responsive conducting from John Nelson. Tempi in the outer movements are faster than the average, but the slow movements have real repose: it’s interesting to see Duchâble expressing his thoughts to Nelson before a rehearsal about how slowly the middle movement of the Third Concerto can go. I’m less happy about some of the copious ancillary material, and the rather labyrinthine navigation, with several cul-de-sacs and multiple routes. The historical background is covered quite succinctly, if a bit sensationally, with plenty of contemporary pictures and readings from letters, but the quality of the English voice-overs is poor, with a few terrible mispronunciations (including one of the name ‘Haydn’).


The isolated solo sonata movement on each DVD pair is redundant, and the features on period pianos and the recording venue – the Opera House at Versailles – are also detachable. In fact there are two tightly edited DVDs waiting to come out of these four, but Duchâble himself is always interesting, whether he’s talking through the concertos with Nelson and the audio producer, or in the more wide-ranging interview included with the Emperor. A pity that there’s so little footage of rehearsal with the orchestra – I’d rather have that than the option of choosing camera angles in a couple of movements. Martin Cotton