Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.1 in C; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: CBC
WORKS: Piano Concerto No.1 in C; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat
PERFORMER: Anton Kuerti (piano)Toronto SO/Andrew Davis
CATALOGUE NO: SMCD 5182
Beethoven’s first two concertos were the works with which he made his bid to conquer the Viennese public as both composer and virtuoso pianist. He had performed both works by the mid-1790s, but didn’t publish them for a further five years. The delay enabled him to continue tinkering with the scores, but also prevented any rival performers from stealing his thunder. Even then, Beethoven didn’t set down any cadenzas until 1809. By that time, his style had changed radically, and he made no attempt to disguise the fact: the longest of the alternative cadenzas for the C major Concerto (used by both Mitsuko Uchida and Anton Kuerti) is a huge and outlandish piece, well over a third as long as the actual first movement, and perhaps the greatest example we have of what Beethoven’s own powers as an improviser must have been like. Uchida, in particular, builds it up into an edifice of overwhelming grandeur.

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Uchida’s performances, greatly helped by Kurt Sanderling’s sympathetic accompaniments, are deeply thoughtful – too much so, it strikes me, in the finales, where her careful tempi and introspective playing fail to convey Beethoven’s impish humour. This is music that needs to be played with a real sense of fun, and both Anton Kuerti and Michael Roll deliver the goods more successfully. Roll’s performance of No. 1 is, indeed, hugely enjoyable throughout, and the same warmth and effortless musicality inform his account of the Emperor. Anyone wanting an inexpensive version of these works would be hard put to do better than this very impressive disc. As for Kuerti, he has moments of real beauty, but little sense of large-scale architecture; and the orchestral contribution is undistinguished. [The Tring disc erroneously bills the First Concerto as being in E flat while, not to be outdone, the CBC has it in C minor. Ed]