ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven Piano Concertos
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 4
PERFORMER: Camerata Ireland/Barry Douglas (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SR 051
These are the kind of performances that it would be a pleasure to hear in concert. Barry Douglas’s playing and directing are insightful and (apart from a tiny piano splodge at 3:08 in the finale of No. 4) technically secure, and they have that quality of being never entirely predictable, no matter how well you know the music. But there’s no cultivation of surprise for surprise’s sake – it all
makes sense in terms of the whole performance. There are some genuinely delightful touches, especially in two cadenzas of the Fourth Concerto, while the slow movement has a grave and sensuous eloquence that never cloys.
Welcome, too, is Douglas’s refusal to treat the Second Concerto as a relatively lightweight apprentice work – Beethoven still partly in the shadow of Mozart. Elegant lyricism rubs up against harder-edged assertiveness, but it all sounds like the work of one very individual young composer. If anything, Douglas has made this underrated work even more his own than No. 4, which says a lot.
But we’re talking about some of the most recorded music in the classical repertoire, and the competition is fearsome. Without taking into account pre-stereo age greats like the 1957 Emil Gilels Fourth, or the 1953 Wilhelm Kempf in either work, I’m still happy to recommend the young Stephen Kovacevich (then Bishop-Kovacevich) with Colin Davis in the half-price Philips Duo set of the first four concertos, despite the ever-so-slightly dated sound – performances of similar strength, intelligence and freshness, but just that bit more absorbing. Stephen Johnson