Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G; Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat (Emperor)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G; Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat (Emperor)
PERFORMER: Clifford Curzon (piano); Vienna PO/Hans Knappertsbusch
CATALOGUE NO: 467 126-2 ADD mono/stereo Reissue (1954, 1957)
This is altogether an exceptionally warm, expansive performance of the Fourth Concerto, and Decca’s 1954 mono recording still sounds very well indeed. As for Curzon, from the very opening bars, their sweeping scale rendered as a magical pianissimo, you know you are in the presence of a true artist. There is a similar, though much longer, scale shortly after the start of the recapitulation, leading to a wonderful interpolation in E flat major – once again played by Curzon with rapt intensity. Less impressive is the Emperor (this time in stereo), whose outer movements suffer from Knappertsbusch’s rather stolid conducting.

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Curzon is actually better served in this work by Boulez and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, in a live 1971 Festival Hall performance (BBC Legends), but for a spellbinding, magisterial Emperor, it’s hard to beat Michelangeli and Giulini. Among more recent recordings of No. 4, Hélène Grimaud with the New York Philharmonic under Masur is recommended. Misha Donat