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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, Op. 15 (1797/8) [32:47]
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor (1803) [34:51]
Mikhail Pletnev (piano)
Russian National Orchestra/Christian Gansch
rec. Live, Beethovenhalle, Bonn, 2 September 2006. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6415 [67:52]

Mikhail Pletnev is nothing if not unpredictable. This live disc is part of an ambitious project that will encompass all of the concertos and symphonies for DG and if this is anything to go by it will be a helter-skelter ride, by turns frustrating and illuminating - mainly the former, for this reviewer.
The orchestra, Pletnev's own RNO, plays superbly under Christan Gansch although interestingly, and possibly tellingly, the disc's cover shows Pletnev looking as if he is directing an orchestra! Pletnev's entrance in Op. 15 is reminiscent of Pollini's first account of the First Concerto, in that he enters in a different tempo from the orchestral exposition. It is disconcerting - from both pianists - implying the soloist is on a different track from all surrounding him. In Pollini's case, this is not so; things quickly right themselves. For Pletnev, it is far more predictive. As one follows Pletnev through the first movement's terrain, one is dazzled by his at times exquisite musicality - try the balancing at 4'48 - and his tendency to pop off into his own dream-world. This latter tendency is perhaps most marked in the cadenza - the short, second one, also favoured by Argerich. But he can also be wilful, seemingly contrary for the sake of it and even studied; try the very end of the cadenza.
The opening of the Largo exemplifies Pletnev's idiosyncratic approach. It is not the tempo so much, more the amount of rubato Pletnev employs. Again, the orchestra is exemplary but, again, Pletnev can be over-forceful, as if trying to drag the listener round to his way of thinking. Try the point-making of the repeated chords at 7'53. The finale is the best movement, with plenty of life and a real sense of play that one does not always associate with this pianist.
The Third Concerto finds Pletnev proclaiming his arrival with scales that accelerate to their apex. Things get better when the orchestra re-enters but there is still a tendency for the pianist to luxuriate in his own ideas. Strangely the cadenza fares better than expected as Pletnev trades at least some of his interventionism for a sense of shape and drama.
The Largo is positively dirge-like, although the orchestra seems to have an idea about how to impart a sense of flow to the occasion. The best part of the movement is when Pletnev accompanies his woodwind colleagues, and takes the role of accompanist.
The finale, as with the First Concerto, is the best movement. Pletnev finds a prickly little counter-melody in the left-hand semiquavers accompanying the principal theme which is almost endearing on first flush. A pity the coda could not have more sprightliness but that’s not a trait that figures highly in Pletnev's make-up.
David Gutman's booklet notes are illuminating, quoting Pletnev from an unknown source -  was there an interview as the basis? Pletnev's use of a Blüthner works well, its jewel-like treble suiting his playing well. The recording is top-drawer stuff.
Ultimately, though, these are thought-provoking performances but not revelatory ones. I have heard Pletnev distort scores far more than he does here - at the Barbican in 2003, for example - but that is no justification. It takes a great musician to take risks of the sort Pletnev takes to be fully convincing; nothing less is good enough. Bernstein manages it, in his DVD account of Mozart 17 on EuroArts 2072098, directing the Vienna Philharmonic, for example. But Bernstein as a musician is, after all, in a different league.
Colin Clarke





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