Beethoven Piano Concertos 1 & 5: Barry Douglas

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)

Camerata Ireland
Barry Douglas (piano)

Recorded on 8 & 9 April 2006 in The Mahoney Hall, The Helix, Dublin

Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler

Reviewed: October 2006
Duration: 72 minutes

The cover photo is a misty, moody shot of the Cliffs of Moher on the West Coast of Ireland, but there’s nothing grey or hazy about these performances.

Camerata Ireland, founded by Barry Douglas in 1999, with musicians from both Ulster and the Irish Republic, is clearly a force to be reckoned with. What comes across particularly is a symbiotic relationship between orchestra and pianist: sounding-boards for each other’s ideas and a chamber music-like feeling of collaboration.

Concerto No.1 opens crisply with neat, robust articulation from the orchestra. The balance allows telling details of scoring to come through, and lets us enjoy some characterful solo woodwind playing. Douglas’s cleanly phrased playing is especially eloquent in the slow movement, taken at a nicely flowing tempo. The finale is brisk and playful, the tempo lively but with no sense of rush. Douglas’s bottom octaves near the start are admirably free from muddiness.

Similar qualities are brought to the Fifth Concerto, the ‘Emperor’. The first movement’s grandeur is charged with vitality, and there’s delicacy when required, too. The second movement is full of tenderness and poetry. I like the way the drop from B to B flat at the end, heralding the finale, is almost understated. The apparent casualness somehow makes it seem even more expectant than usual. The finale is full of unobtrusively propulsive energy. My only serious interpretative quibble comes at the two passages marked ‘ritard’, where Douglas’s exaggerated slowing down disrupts the forward motion too much.

Throughout the disc there’s no sense of strain resulting from Douglas’s double role as soloist-director. Once or twice there is a slight feeling that he is starting to let the tempo run away with him, but he quickly recovers.

The recorded sound is clear and immediate, but with a slightly recessed orchestral presence when Douglas is playing. The climactic passage in the Fifth Concerto’s opening movement when piano and orchestra exchange rising and falling scales suffers particularly in this respect.

Reservations apart, though, this is a very attractive disc, well worth investigating, especially if this particular coupling appeals to you, and leaving the Third Concerto and the Triple Concerto to come.

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