Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

Recorded 22 & 23 May 2012 in Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL 88725420582
Duration: 68 minutes
Reviewed: September 2012
And so begins “The Beethoven Journey”. It must be difficult to brand – if it needs to be done at all – something as timeless as recording Beethoven piano concertos, a ‘journey’ already undertaken by countless pianists covering many decades for the pleasure (or not) of innumerable listeners. It is now Leif Ove Andsnes’s turn. Of course Beethoven concertos are new for him, certainly in recorded terms. Here he is directing as well as playing Beethoven in C major and C minor. In the earlier of these two concertos, tempos are sprightly in the outer movements and details are clean; the collaborative nature of the undertaking is positive and emphasised with a natural balance between soloist and conductor, delineating the poise and clarity of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and that it is at-one with Andsnes’s spirited, articulate and responsive playing of the solo part.
If there are no particular revelations in the C major’s first movement, in which Andsnes’s choice of the shortest and perkiest of Beethoven’s three cadenzas is apt for his overall approach, one can enjoy many articulations and dynamics that are considered afresh, and (should this appeal) ‘coloured’ with historically-informed leanings. The slow movement could be broader in approach – here it wears its depths a little too lightly – but the finale dances buoyantly, crisp and infectious, the ‘jazzy’ episode going with a real swing.
The darker C minor Piano Concerto opens here with phrases that are too short-winded and the strings (violins typically antiphonal) could do with a fleshier sound. Woodwind detailing is vivid, though. A certain amount of brooding is in the air, if not enough. Once again Andsnes brings Classical concision to his task. It’s all eminently musical, nary an exaggeration is heard, and all the performers are attentive to the music and to each other. Yet, for all the bravura and sympathy, there is a lack of collective soul here, so important in this work, and although Andsnes attacks the first-movement cadenza (Beethoven’s) with gusto, the engrossment level is limited. The middle movement, another Largo, brings a greater degree of spiritually than hitherto, however, Andsnes seeming to dig deeper into the tonal resources of his piano, the Mahler CO now finding more of a collective heart, and the finale, like its counterpart in the C major work, is full of life, rhythmic élan and sensitive shaping.
A few noises-off, including coughing, most noticeably around the nine-minute mark of the C major’s first movement, remind that these are concert performances, the recorded sound a little edgy and the resonance of the Dvořák Hall behind the up-front players rather than integral to their music-making. Beethoven is undoubtedly well-served here yet without either rendition fully compelling the listener or changing existing recommendations – off the cuff, Friedrich Gulda/Horst Stein (Decca) in the C major and Sviatoslav Richter/Kurt Sanderling (DG) in the C minor. Mixed feelings, then, for these are two excellent accounts in one sense but falling short in the divine and dramatic stakes. Let’s see how the Journey progresses.

 

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