Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5; Choral Fantasy; Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Arte Nova
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 5; Choral Fantasy; Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt
PERFORMER: Yefim Bronfman (piano); Swiss Chamber Choir; Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 82585 2
David Zinman’s cycle of Beethoven’s orchestral works is with a modern symphony orchestra but uses a fair number of the devices promoted by the ‘authentic’ movement. This latest addition has a lot going for it, though by no means enough for an unqualified recommendation. One can listen to it with pleasure as a contrast to accounts of the Emperor Concerto of a more familiar kind, but mainly for the incidentals that it reveals and that they don’t. Using such a lean sound, Zinman is able to bring into unwonted prominence many woodwind details normally buried in a rich, full-sized modern orchestra; but somehow these tend to build up a picture of impishness and fun, with pecks, jabs and stabs, rather than the grandeur which is inherent in this work and which justifies its nickname. Nor does the hushed inwardness characteristic of many passages, including the whole of the second movement, come across. Indeed, it often seems that Zinman, in collusion with the soloist Yefim Bronman, is intent on a mischievous deflation of this masterpiece.

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The bizarre Choral Fantasy fares better with this kind of treatment, but that may say more about the work than the treatment. And then the strange, lovely, late Becalmed Sea and Prosperous Voyage receives a performance of real discernment and beauty, with a still opening which hardly allows you to breathe. All told, at the price, worth having for the ‘fillers’. Michael Tanner