Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 1-5* (* Reissue (1992)); Triple Concerto

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1-5* (* Reissue (1992)); Triple Concerto
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini, Alexander Lonquich (piano), Ilya Gringolts (violin), Mario Brunello (cello); Berlin Philharmonic, Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 477 7244

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Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is a crazy piece: balance problems between the three soloists, and then between the soloists and the orchestra, are only where the difficulties start. But given the right performance the craziness acquires a kind of sublimity: reach for the impossible and you might just – momentarily – grasp it. The version that comes closest for me, at the same time as opening out the subtleties, delicacy and touching tenderness, remains the Beaux Arts Trio/Masur on EMI. This newcomer starts extremely well, and there are moments when the soloists coax an almost Schubertian poetry and sweetness from this Leviathan. The finale, too, has a welcome lightness in its step – a polonaise that really dances. But there’s just too much sweetness and lightness and not enough fire. In fact the orchestra often gets closer to the sinewy heart of the music than the three star players. The effect is rather different in the famous, and (for some) classic Pollini recordings with which this Triple Concerto is coupled. Here, though, feelings remain mixed. Pollini brings his usual aristocratic poise and intellectual concentration to the music, and throughout the cycle there are things to admire, in the way one might admire the elegant working out of a complicated mathematical problem. It’s possible to be cerebrally involved in what Pollini does, and even to be captured momentarily by its steely beauty (his control in pianissimo is phenomenal), but there’s a strange sense of abstraction – or even just chilliness – at the end of it all. It’s the sort of playing one could imagine appealing to listeners who don’t really like Beethoven. Stephen Johnson