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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, op.37*, Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, op. 73 – “Emperor”**
Benno Moiseiwitsch (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent*, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Georg Szell**
rec. 20 December 1950, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London*, 21 October 1938, Kingsway Hall, London**
CD transfers by Ward Marston
NAXOS 8.110776 [71:37]


After a slightly surprising slurring of the first two notes, Sargent conducts the orchestral ritornello of the third concerto with a forthright energy similar to that which he had provided 17 years earlier for another recording by a Leschetizky pupil, Artur Schnabel, and perhaps achieves here a superior formal control. But whereas Schnabel, on entering, takes up the tale, so to speak, Moiseiwitsch immediately gives evidence of a contrasting type of sensibility, drifting into a delicate Schumannesque or even Chopinesque reverie. Since both artists stick to their respective views it follows that this movement is more a catalogue of attractive incidents, with some piano-playing that is very lovely in itself, than an integrated experience. Moiseiwitsch’s slant on the music is perhaps summed up by his choice of a cadenza by Carl Reinecke, meltingly un-Beethovenian in its romantic harmonies from the opening bars and inspiring the pianist to a flood of warm but not always accurate pianism. It is also a more original piece of work than any of Reinecke’s actual compositions which have come my way. 

If in the first movement reason seems to be on Sargent’s side, in the second it is the pianist’s lovely tone and limpid phrasing which carry the day, against which the conductor’s elegantly turned accompaniment sounds merely bland. Best is the finale, where both musicians settle down to enjoy themselves and have seemingly found a common view. 

This interesting but hardly essential performance did not prepare me for the splendours of the Moiseiwitsch/Szell “Emperor”. We should perhaps bear in mind that in 1950 Moiseiwitsch, though still engaged in a gruelling schedule of public performances, was 60 years old and his technique seems at times blurred compared with the 48-year old who plays the “Emperor”. In the first movement the recipe might seem the same only more so; Szell conducts with a forthright trenchancy, but also a textual transparency and a razor-sharp brilliance which it is rare to hear in London-made recordings of those years and which, as in the best of his later Cleveland recordings, still finds time for musicality and humanity. Moiseiwitsch brings his poetic sensibilities to bear on his first solo, yet somehow the overall line holds here; he does not storm at the music and there is an almost music-box-like clarity to certain some of the two-against-three passages where other pianists go for the broad outlines, but he never loses his sense of direction. 

This very fine performance achieves a slow movement of translucent clarity yet also of great warmth and bursts into a buoyant, joyful, unhurried account of the finale. The 1938 recording actually seems to do better justice to the pianist’s tone than that of 1930. Not the most imperious of “Emperors”, in spite of having one of the most imperious of accompaniments, but one worth returning to. 

Christopher Howell

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf



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