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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concertos – No. 1 in C, Op. 15 (1795/98) [39’14]; No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73, ‘Emperor’ (1809) [39’34].

Victor Emanuel von Monteton (piano)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner.
Rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, on August 9th-11th, 2002. [DDD]
RCA RED SEAL 74321 95030-2 [78’51]


It really does take quite a lot to leave me dumbfounded, but this disc succeeded in no uncertain terms. Clearly a vehicle for Victor Emanuel Count Dijon of Monteton (to give him his full title:, this particular Wunderkind (piano lessons at three-and-a-half; age of eight Germany’s youngest high school pupil, etc), does have a technique of sorts. Unfortunately it is clearly no match for Beethoven’s own on the strength of this recording.

While the Academy of St Martin’s is its normal, musical self, it does sound rather like there is a certain amount of going through the motions going on here. All the cleanliness and clarity one would expect is there (Marriner has lost none of his talent in this regard), but this is routine at best. From Monteton’s very first note one can guess why. The piano’s initial anacrusis is left hanging in mid air, with nothing to do. Instead of leading naturally to the first beat of the next bar, it just sits there, exuding no energy or momentum whatsoever. In fact, it almost acts as Monteton’s entire interpretative stance in microcosm. Arpeggios are literal. Monteton is crowded by Beethoven’s demands (a kind way of saying he really shouldn’t be playing this, not on public release, anyway). He is often literal and bangy; staccati have no point to them (in either sense of the word). As for the cadenza, there is no wit or cheekiness – even Pollini (whose pianistic jokes one could fit on the back of a postage stamp) scores with the ‘surprise’ end to the cadenza.

Montetnon’s decorations in the second movement are cleanly executed, but hardly involving. A curious effect is that, as the piano texture gets thicker, the excitement the listener feels remains absolutely constant, tending towards zero. This is an amateur playing with professionals and given generally, top-flight engineering. Towards the end of the movement, one almost wills Monteton to melt into the music, yet he steadfastly refuses. The clarinet, so important in this movement, sounds recessed (perhaps because this is The Monteton Show). The finale is hardly jaunty. Syncopations emerge as laboured, when they should raise a life-affirming smile. ‘Lacklustre’ sums up the entire experience. When the end comes, it is a relief.

Take a break (you’ll need one). After that, what was to become of the beloved ‘Emperor’?.

It really is quite an achievement to make the first movement of the ‘Emperor’ seem tedious, but in this respect one must congratulate Monteton. Although the opening flourishes promise at least something, even there the staccato touch has a false edge to it. Perhaps this is the key – so much sounds as if a teacher had told him to play things this way or that, and Monteton has not the first clue as to why. A flowing orchestral exposition gives the listener something to enjoy (at least it is not anti-Beethoven) before Monteton loses impetus, life and excitement. The admittedly difficult passage at around 6’58 (which does defeat many a pianist) is plodding (the tempo helps him to get the notes). The octave passage (around 11’-11’30) is horribly literal, with no melting into the ensuing passage of transcendent beauty.

No surprises in the slow movement. After a nicely shaped introduction, our pianist interrupts the magical descents by stabbing at notes. True, there are some moments of peace, but the transition to the third movement (surely one of the most beautiful passages in all music) suffers from a too-loud and plonky left hand, and to cap it all there is an horrendous edit at the very beginning of the finale (has it been stuck together with sellotape? I thought we had digital editing these days). Monteton ploughs his way through the finale with no hint of visceral excitement. The passage at 6’50 is really quite remarkable: here is Monteton caught in the practice room!.

At the end there is a palpable feeling of relief that the experience is over. Lots to say about this disc, then, but virtually none of it positive.

Initially, I was dumbfounded, but I now seem to have found a voice. This disc enjoys the privilege of being one of the worst I have heard for many a moon.

Colin Clarke


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