Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3; Piano Concerto No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Arte Nova
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven Piano Concertos
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 3; Piano Concerto No. 4
PERFORMER: Yefim Bronfman (piano); Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 64010 2
David Zinman is one of the most interesting and provocative Beethoven performers around today. And Yefim Bronfman is an intelligent choice as a partner. Like Zinman he can articulate with refreshing sharp clarity when needed, but also contrast it with sensuous singing tone. It’s always good to hear performers who appreciate that Beethoven did have a sense of fun. In fact Bronfman describes the first movement cadenza of Concerto No. 3 as ‘a pure joke, elementary humour’ – a remark fully vindicated by his performance. What I miss here though is the quality Zinman describes in the Third Concerto: ‘a kind of Eroica for piano and orchestra’. Most of the time it feels a lot lighter and more good-natured than that. It made me yearn for some of the old Barenboim/Klemperer grit (though not their heaviness). And I can’t help feeling that the opening of No. 4 in Bronfman’s hands is just a tad over-articulated – and remarkably slow. Zinman seems the more penetrating of the two here, which makes the famous ‘Orpheus and Furies’ contest in the slow movement oddly unequal.

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Benchmark? Coming back to the Stephen (Bishop-)Kovacevich and Colin Davis 1970s set (now available at bargain price on Philips Duo), I’m surprised at how roundly satisfying it still is, with something of the humour and volatility of Zinman and Bronfman, plus extra fire and inner intensity. Stephen Johnson