Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat (Emperor); 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat (Emperor); 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Uchida (piano); Bavarian RSO/Kurt Sanderling
CATALOGUE NO: 462 586-2
It’s one measure of a great performance that it focuses the attention so entirely on the music that you forget everything else. Another is that it banishes all thought of other performances from your mind. That both circumstances should apply with a work as familiar and over-recorded as the ‘Emperor’ is cause for celebration. This is just such a performance – which by definition presupposes such a perfect a unanimity of approach on the parts of conductor and soloist that one almost forgets (and how ironically!) that this is a concerto at all. Truly symphonic in conception (a ‘symphony’, like the Brahms B flat Concerto, ‘with piano obbligato’), the performance unfolds so organically, and with such inner logic, that it rivets the attention from first note to last. And Uchida is in superb form, powerful but never point-making, commanding a richly varied but always beautiful tone, and playing with a suppleness of line which all but compels one to believe that the piano is a living thing. This disc doesn’t supersede any of the other first-class performances in the catalogue, but it need bow to none. Perahia and Haitink, Pollini and Abbado, are equally compelling (Perahia perhaps giving a slightly more feline, ‘Mozartian’ performance, Pollini a steelier, more ‘rugged’ one), and the list of equally but differently compelling ‘rivals’ could be extended for some time. For me, Uchida’s performance of the C minor Variations. being at times a little point-making, even mannered, isn’t quite in the same league as her ‘Emperor’, but it glows with her characteristic intelligence and passion. For benchmark purposes, again I’d go for Perahia. Jeremy Siepmann

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