LABELS: Sony Classical
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven: The Piano Concertos
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1-5
PERFORMER: Rudolph Buchbinder (piano & direction); Vienna Philharmonic
CATALOGUE NO: 88883745212
Rudolf Buchbinder first performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in the Vienna Musikverein at the age of 11; these recordings reflect his return in a blaze of glory 57 years later, but now directing from the keyboard, and with all five concertos. The fact that he and the Vienna Philharmonic have pulled off a similar feat with the Mozart Concertos doesn’t make this new one any less daring: with two concerts recorded live in the space of a few hours, they were taking a risk. Moreover, Buchbinder belongs to that select band of pianists who refuse to cheat by eliding the extreme demands of Beethoven’s pianism: he faithfully follows the notation in the famously tricky passage of the First Concerto’s Allegro.
The results richly justify that risk. We not only get an unusually clear exposition of Beethoven’s trajectory from Classicism to Romanticism, and of the development of his heroic style; we get the excitement of what feels like one gigantic concert. Buchbinder’s touch alters as the music’s mode alters, and he maintains an impressive balance between his roles as soloist and director, although there are inevitably moments when that division is less than ideal, most notably in the Allegro of the Fourth Concerto, where the piano has so much to say, and where the orchestra here consequently sounds unloved. And if the Emperor’s final flourish misfires, that’s a small price to pay for three hours of superb communal music-making, in which emotional restraint serves to enhance the colouring and strengthen the drama. Michael Church