Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 5

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: NAIVE
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 5
PERFORMER: François-Frédéric Guy (piano); Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Philippe Jordan
CATALOGUE NO: V 5084

Advertisement

In 1809, at a time when deafness had long since precluded his making a career out of plating them himself, Beethoven wrote out cadenzas for his firs three piano concertos. In the intervening years his style had changed radically, and one of the alternative cadenzas he provided for the opening Allegroof the Concerto No.1 is a towering piece that inhabits an entirely different world from that of the original work, and threatens to dwarf the remainder of the movement. The stylistic incongruity has not prevented a select band of pianist – they include Michelangeli, Brendel and Schiff – from championing it in the past, and these days it’s become fasionable to play it. It features on both these new recordings, though Piotr Anderzewski performs it in curiously muted fashion, with no apparent attempt to convey its sweep and grandeur. François-Frédéric Guy is much more convincing, though he’s rather let down elsewhere in the first movement by the fussy conducting of Philippe Jordan, with his penchant for artificially stressing upbeats. The Emperor concerto suffers much less from such mannerisms, and Guy’s playing is again impressively authoritative. The performance is not one that will displace the magisterial ‘live’ account by Michelangeli and Guilini with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, but it confirms Guy as one of the foremost pianists of his generations. Michelangeli is spellbinding in the cadenzas of No.1, too, but his and Guilini’s rather stolid view of the outer movements rules their version out as a recommendation. Coming as it does after his fine recording of Mozart’s D minor and G major Concertos with the Scottish Chanber Orchestra, Anderszewski’s Beethoven is altogether something of a disappointment. Anderszerski’s blandness in the first movement cadenzas is mirrored in the Concerto itself, though of course there are fine moments – the mysterious approach to the recapitulation, of the rapt account of the slow movement’s opening theme. Elsewhere the playing all too often lacks sparkle, in comparison with, say, Schiff, who gives an exemplary account bringing out all the music’s youthful exuberance and quirkiness. Anderskewski make a meal of the late Op.215 Bagatelles too, drawing out the slow third piece mercilessly and sounding distinctly heavy in some of the remaining numbers; and the strident quality of the recording is a further hindrance to enjoyment. For a strongly characterised performance of these elusive pieces that doesn’t sacrifice anything of their intimacy and expressiveness, Alfred Brendel is a firm recommendation.