Beethoven
  • Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15

  • Ania Dorfmann
    NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini (recorded 1945)

  • Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19

  • William Kapell
    NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Golschmann (1946)

  • Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37

  • Marguerite Long
    Paris Conservatoire Orchestra conducted by Felix Weingartner (1939)

    Artur Rubinstein
    NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini (1944)

  • Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58

  • Walter Gieseking (piano)
    Saxon State Orchestra (Dresden) conducted by Karl Böhm (1939)

    Clara Haskil
    London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Carlo Zecchi (1947)

  • Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)

  • Rudolph Serkin
    New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter (1941)

    Artur Schnabel
    Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Alceo Galliera (1947)
CD No: ANDANTE 1996-1999 (4 CDs)
Duration:
Reviewed: May 2002
The question of how to popularise classical music is vexed and difficult, but clearly now salient, even critical, for the industry. Part of the success of Classic FM in England is its relentless self-promotion on air – by merchandising many of its own products it has established itself as a successful brand, not just a radio station. If one compares this with andante.com, one sees an attempt to appeal to a more highbrow, musically educated market. So if I have reservations about the concept, it is far from being in the direction of ’dumbing down’ rather it is to hope that slickness of presentation and care of thought is enough to expand the clientele beyond the already captive market. Nevertheless, there is the question of strategy – it is important that a new and ambitious idea like andante.com does not simply occupy the space of new technology with existing ideas but also takes advantage of new possibilities.
As for this Beethoven concerto set, there are certainly treasures here. William Kapell’s tragically short career makes any recording of his valuable; he is prized for being heroic and poetic as well as technically immaculate. In his hands No.2 emerges as weighty, far less Mozartian than we are used to. Marguerite Long, famous as an interpreter of Faurè, turns in an unexpectedly Teutonic performance of No.3. Rubinstein’s typically lyrical rendition is the superior; the slow movement is especially yielding and romantically delivered.
Clara Haskil’s pellucid, enchanted and ego-less account of the Fourth Concerto completely puts Gieseking’s, on the same disc, in the shade. Although Gieseking’s recording with Galliera is a classic, his playing here is foursquare and unimaginative compared to the shimmer and lightness of Haskil. The two ’Emperors’ also make an instructive comparison – Schnabel, as poetic as ever, against the more muscular Serkin. The least familiar name will be Ania Dorfmann, yet another Russian-Ukrainian, who left for France at the time of the Russian Revolution, and later recorded extensively for RCA Victor. The performance of No.1 is straightforward but effective, demonstrably Russian despite Dorfmann’s early emigration.
This set is more a synoptic survey of a moment in Beethoven concerto performance-history than something to change our views on an artist or this particular part of the repertoire. Whether to duplicate the same concerto is a good idea is debatable. It should also be noted that other CD transfers exist of these recordings. This is common practice for historic re-issues, but it may well limit the commercial success of this set to those who already have a specialist interest. Andante may well be at odds with its own ambitions, although collectors might note that these transfers are excellent and possibly better than hitherto.
These CDs will appeal to serious followers of the history of pianism, and much painstaking work has clearly gone into the choice of recording and the production of the CDs. It is also an admirable attempt in the struggle to broaden the appeal of classical music, and I wish it every success.

 

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