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BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5; Choral Fantasia.
Daniel Barenboim (piano), John Alldis Choir, New Philharmonia Orchestra/Klemperer
EMI Classics 7243 5 67329 2 6 64'06"

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It has been a joy to renew acquaintance with Klemperer and Barenboim from the 60's. I attended regularly Otto Klemperer's magisterial Beethoven performances, and too the young Daniel Barenboim's complete sonatas series at the new Queen Elizabeth Hall. The partnership in these 1967 recordings, produced by the recently deceased Suvi Raj Grubb, is deeply satisfying and the balance engineering of Robert Gooch plays no small part. Barenboim is allowed to accompany the bassoon in the first movement of the Emperor, relaxing and musing as he plays his figurations. All too often concerto recordings are spoilt by the apparent desire of some soloists to be up front throughout and a (misguided?) belief that this is what the public wants? I always approach new concerto recordings by celebrity soloists with trepidation on that account.

Klemperer gives a sedate, unadorned tutti after the swirling piano arpeggios, which get the first movement of the Emperor Concerto (1809) off to a good start. It is rock-solid, like granite, calmly setting up the framework for the interchanges which follow. Barenboim responds by playing it very straight too. I don't have facilities (nor inclination!) for comparisons, but the first movement takes 22'49" and gripped my attention unswervingly. I don't own another Emperor, and this one is fine for me!

The Choral Fantasia (1808) provides a lot of Beethoven in microcosm, and I once chose it to represent that composer in a Desert Island Discs type competition, at a time when it was a concert rarity. It gives a glimpse into Beethoven's improvisations (the opening solo piano fantasy was written down after the first performance), then there are light chamber-music variations on a theme close to the Ninth's Ode to Joy, gradually bringing in different sections of the orchestra; finally the choir sings "- - lovely is the sound of harmony - - accept the gifts of fair art gladly - -".

At the end, the piano joins in with octave scales and arpeggio flourishes, which in this coupling lead nicely into the more elaborate arpeggiated flourishes which call attention to the soloist at the beginning of the Emperor.

The digital remastering sounds fine to my (possibly not over-demanding) ears and I recommend this reissue as an acquisition for any collection.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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