Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.5

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor); Choral Fantasia in C minor
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (piano); Eric Ericson Chamber Choir; Norrköping Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Parrott
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-SACD-1793

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The last of Ronald Brautigam’s Beethoven concerto recordings has many of the virtues of its predecessors – not least, a refreshing liveliness coupled with a welcome sense of risk-taking. Right from its opening cadenza-like passages, the Emperor emerges as a much more intimate work than we’re used to, with Brautigam even using the soft pedal at moments. His liking for quick tempos is as much in evidence as ever, and in the case of the slow movement the hushed atmosphere of the piece as a whole perhaps needs more breathing-space in order to make their full effect.

Brautigam plays the elaborate opening solo of the Choral Fantasia in an appropriately improvisatory style (at the work’s premiere, Beethoven presented it as an extemporisation), but the spontaneity of his approach isn’t always matched by Andrew Parrott’s rather down-to-earth conducting.

The first orchestral entry is too heavy to convey the music’s mystery, and there’s a similar lack of hushed playing in the magical moment during the Emperor’s opening tutti, where the music turns to the minor, and the staccato strings give out a theme that will later erupt into a triumphal march.

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Certainly, there’s much to enjoy in these performances, but for a more magisterial approach to the concerto, Michelangeli and Giulini remain a strong recommendation; while Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Nikolaus Harnoncourt offer a more poised and elegant account of the Choral Fantasia. Misha Donat