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Benno Moiseiwitsch
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.3
Philharmonia Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent, recorded 1950
Piano Concerto No.5
London Philharmonic Orchestra/George Szell, recorded 1938
Benno Moiseiwitsch (piano) with orchestras and conductors as above
NAXOS 8.110776 [71.37]


We’re up to number eight in Naxos’s Moiseiwitsch edition. This takes us to his big Beethoven Concerto recordings made either side of the War, the Emperor with Szell and the C minor with Sargent. The latter was of course a dab hand in this kind of repertoire and this kind of role. His stint as Schnabel’s colleague – via the Courtauld-Sargent concerts - and finally the recorded cycle of Concertos had done his international reputation no harm at all. Sargent doesn’t screw up the tension as tightly as Boult had done for Solomon in 1943 but this rather better suits his soloist’s more elegant and poetic approach, one that’s not devoid of drama but that subsumes it more to a lyric curve. Sargent scores highly in unravelling the middle string voices in the slow movement (try sampling from about 5’00 onwards for some scrupulous moulding) though Moiseiwitsch’s phrasing in the finale can, if one’s unsympathetic, be thought somewhat fidgety.

A dozen years earlier he collaborated with Szell in the Emperor. This doesn’t sound to have been a true meeting either of minds or of musical sensibilities. There are some metrical displacements – rather unstylish, even for the time - and a strong series of dynamics from the pianist but how admirably Szell gets the winds piping up and also how well Moiseiwitsch shapes left hand voicings from about 10.00 onwards. For all that it isn’t especially plodding, it feels too slow as well. And despite Szell’s characterisation of the slow movement as feminine sounding it too is a mite slow, though the finale features plenty of the soloist’s wonderful pearl-bejewelled tone.

The sound of the C minor is good, vintage 1950. In the Emperor Mark Obert-Thorn has retained a relatively high level of surface noise. I could have done with a judicious cut, but the sound is certainly forward and unobscured.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Christopher Howell

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