Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
Mozart
Piano Concerto No.12 in A, K414
Leon Fleisher (piano)

Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [now WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln]
André Cluytens [Beethoven]
Georg Ludwig Jochum

Recorded in the Funkhaus, Saal 1, Cologne – 25 & 29 March 1957 (Mozart) and 7 March 1960
CD No: ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5121
Duration: 61 minutes
Reviewed: July 2014
A lively and crisp orchestral introduction, rather joyous, leads off Beethoven’s C major Piano Concerto, reminding what a stylish conductor Belgian-born André Cluytens (1905-67) was, and it is also an attentive preface for Leon Fleisher’s scintillating solos. Fleisher (born 1928 in San Francisco) plays with considerable music-serving virtuosity and much sensitivity too, making a considerable partnership with conductor and orchestra. No stranger to Beethoven’s Piano Concertos – he recorded the lot with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra (CBS/Sony) – Fleisher here summons a rapacious and wholesome account that makes for good listening and includes a stunning account of the longest and most off-the-wall first-movement cadenza that Beethoven wrote for this work. Also notable is the central Largo, properly spacious and soulful, and a scampering finale that dances with life-enhancing vitality, and as jazzy as you like. (Only a few months ago, aged 85, Fleisher impressed in Ravel’s Left-Hand Piano Concerto live from Detroit; review-link below.)
A few years earlier than the Beethoven, with Georg Ludwig Jochum (1909-70, younger brother of Eugen) conducting, Fleisher had conjured a delightful account of K414, a gem of a piece, and a favourite of Fleisher’s (not so long ago he was playing it in its string-quartet version, with the Emerson musicians). With Jochum, the first movement is brisk but not relentless – and some may appreciate Fleisher’s steeliness – and the slow movement is given all its beauty and warmth. The finale can be played with greater courtliness, but the vigour from Fleisher and Jochum brings its own rewards – nothing precious here.
The icing on the cake is Dirk Franken’s typically fastidious re-mastering of the mono originals, lovely and clear with no contamination of ‘true tones’ due to over-zealous digitalisation (a fear of hiss!), right down to the tell-tale bass area.

 

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