Beethoven Piano Concertos 2 & 4: Barry Douglas

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58

Camerata Ireland
Barry Douglas (piano)

Recorded on 9 & 10 June 2005 in The Mahoney Hall, The Helix, Dublin

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: May 2006
Duration: 62 minutes

When dealing with core repertoire, is it stupid to ask: “Do we really need another recording?” In this case, maybe we do. Performance practice is always changing, and these chamber-scale, soloist-directed performances are typical of how we hear Beethoven today, with one ear firmly towards the precise classical style out of which he developed.

These are satisfying modern interpretations of what will become a complete Beethoven piano concerto cycle. The Camerata is Barry Douglas’s own orchestra – in the sense that he helped to found it in 1999; its finely chiselled phrasing and immediacy of response offer him staunch support in these bright performances.

Douglas’s classical, almost Mozartean approach suits the Second Concerto very well; the first movement, with its incisive string playing, the free-flowing lyricism of Douglas himself and a general sense of freshness is the most successful movement on the disc. The slow movement is well structured if over-deliberate and the finale, though light and lively, lacks playfulness and humour. Having recently listened to Douglas in recital, I noticed exactly the same technical quirk – that of infinitesimally clipping short the notes in ornaments and fast passagework – and also the same virtue of understated eloquence, especially well-shaped in the cadenzas.

The Fourth Concerto begins extremely secco and is generally less successful. Douglas’s emotional reticence hinders his scaling the work’s grandeur. The tempo is so measured as to seem static, and although the big climax (around 10’15”) is stirring, the overall effect is more discursive, even flabby, than questing or heroic. The slow movement lacks a real sense of dialogue between soloist and orchestra; the finale is also curiously muted.

The presentation is at one with the artistic approach – with recorded sound that is open and bright, and excellently detailed. Exemplary modern artwork completes a well-packaged project. These are accomplished, sensitive interpretations, but I hoped for more magic, something that would make one listen to them alongside classic accounts from the likes of Kovacevich and Kempff.

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