Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 3

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 3
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (piano);
Norrköping SO/Andrew Parrott
CATALOGUE NO: SACD-1692

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Ronald Brautigam and Andrew Parrott offer these familiar pieces in what could best be described as modern-instrument performances informed by period-instrument practice. Brautigam, who’s well known as a fortepiano player, here uses a Steinway concert grand piano, though he and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra nevertheless take a largely intimate view of the music. Perhaps it’s the relatively small string-strength coupled with a lack of vibrato that makes some of the more forceful passages in the tuttis sound a bit undernourished, but the playing is refreshingly alert throughout, with tempos noticeably on the fast side. In the case of the Largo from No. 1 it’s possible to feel there’s more depth to the music than the flowing speed can adequately convey, but these are generally finely-recorded accounts and they have much to offer. One small detail in the opening movement of the C major Concerto is worth mentioning. At the time Beethoven composed it (though not when he wrote the big cadenza, nearly a decade later, which Brautigam plays), the top note on the keyboard was an F natural. The apex of the second subject clearly calls for an F sharp, but rather than set the melody an octave lower Beethoven made do with the F natural, producing a incongruously plangent effect. Most pianists alter the melody, but Brautigam joins the few (they include Rudolf Serkin and András Schiff) who follow Beethoven’s text to the letter. Misha Donat