Beethoven Piano Concertos 1 & 3 – Mikhail Pletnev

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37

Mikhail Pletnev (piano)

Russian National Orchestra
Christian Gansch

Recorded on 2 September 2006 at a concert in the Beethovenhalle, Bonn

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2007
CD No: DG 477 6415
Duration: 68 minutes

As has been said before: expect the unexpected with Mikhail Pletnev. Maybe that should read: expect the expected. Pletnev, when he is minded to be interventionist, tends to do very similar things regarding tempo manipulation and ‘odd’ phrasing. He does here, at the beginning of Concerto No.1. Following an orchestral exposition that is the epitome of thrust and clarity (Christian Gansch throughout is a fastidious and perceptive conductor), Pletnev’s first entry, slightly delayed and with the hands slightly apart, is at a tempo slower than set by Gansch – then the pianist spurts forward as if now awake. This is one of few eccentricities – for Pletnev also exhibits wonderful dexterity. If some pauses for thought are more contrived than illuminating, there is also a variety of attack and dynamics; a lively account, one full of personality and with plenty of detail to savour in the orchestra. Overall, incision rather than weight is the order of the day, Pletnev preferring the mellow sounds of a Blüthner and the employment of one of Beethoven’s shorter cadenzas (is someone rustling a plastic bag during this?).

The slow movement flows engagingly, although whether some of the over-pedalled haze is appropriate is another matter. In one of the ‘strange’ moments on this disc, the finale breaks into clockwork gobbledegook (1’50”-2’03”), an effect that is discombobulating. When the ‘pub piano’ episode is reached (from 2’36”) Pletnev swings with the best of them while also being a little fey. Overall, insights outweigh perversions!

The minor-key Third Concerto is vividly projected from the outset through winds, antiphonal violins and a spirited (left-positioned) double bass section; a fine mix of tragedy and purpose is set up until Pletnev’s entry (again delayed) lets the tension slip somewhat. But the tempo, generally nifty if with the occasional delaying tactic, is upbeat enough on its own terms and the cadenza is suitably visceral and summatory. The opening of the slow movement mixes benediction with out-of-proportion accents and dynamics, but it keeps the listener on his toes! The finale, quite measured, has from Pletnev its fancies and much that is also intriguing, the movement’s sections neatly dovetailed. Certainly different – and welcome as such.

The recording is excellent in giving piano and orchestra a good balance, although some of the tuttis can seem at a distance in the C minor work (woodwind commentaries are consistently lucid enough though).

Applause is removed from the end of the First Concerto but not the Third. The rest of the concertos will follow; so too Pletnev conducting the symphonies – now that ought to be interesting (in 2006 Pletnev consciously performed Beethoven instead of Mozart and Shostakovich) – indeed in an age when Beethoven performances tend to be cut from similar if ‘informed’ cloth, one hopes that Pletnev will break the mould spectacularly!

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