Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Conifer
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat; Piano Concerto No. 4 in G
PERFORMER: Mikhail Kazakevich (piano)ECO/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: CDCF 237 DDD
The distinguished British Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper has prepared new texts of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 4, utilising corrections and amendments that the composer added after – or in the case of Concerto No. 2 shortly before – both works were published. It is an extraordinary story and the new versions were well worth recording, especially as the pianist is the talented young Russian player, Mikhail Kazakevich, who is accompanied by one of the most experienced and reliable of present conductors.

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Beethoven’s so-called Second Piano Concerto is actually his first, chronologically, probably written out in its first version when Beethoven was studying with Haydn in Vienna in 1793. But Beethoven went on revising the work, even substituting whole movements (the original form of the finale is known as the Rondo, WoO 6, and it too was subjected to an exceptionally large number of corrections in the autograph). As Dr Cooper relates the complicated history, the changes in the final version of the concerto all occur in the first movement: ‘They were added shortly before the parts were printed, but were not incorporated into the printed edition, apparently because of pressure of time.’ These changes actually include ten bars which are cancelled completely – they brought this reviewer up sharp too, especially the first cut, bars 81-4. It is indeed ‘desirable that these amendments be restored in performance today’.

The case of the Fourth Concerto is even more spectacular. The first public performance occurred in 1808, after the work had been printed, and the changes Beethoven made are found in a manuscript owned by the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna. Of the emendations, which concern the first and last movements, Dr Cooper writes: ‘The results are astonishing to anyone who knows the concerto at all well. Here was a work that we thought was so perfectly moulded that it would be almost impossible to imagine it being improved. And yet Beethoven’s alterations affect about 130 bars altogether (out of just over one thousand) and were clearly improvements…’

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In some respects it is a pity not to hear the piano part – and obviously the orchestra too – played on a piano of the period. Some of Beethoven’s markings in the Fourth Concerto simply do not come off on a modern piano (the shift from three strings to one). But one is very glad to hear the new revisions, and the disc must be accounted a distinct success. HC Robbins Landon