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Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37 [35:10]
Piano Concerto No.4 in G major, Op.58 [32:24]
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major, Op.73 ‘Emperor’ [35:48]
Artur Pizarro (piano)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. Perth Concert Hall, 2-5 November 2008. DDD
LINN CKD336 [67:34 + 35:48]
Experience Classicsonline

Fresh from their much-lauded recording of Mozart’s later symphonies, Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra turn their attention to Beethoven’s final three piano concertos.

This double disc set has much to commend it. Firstly, the recorded sound is superb. Warm and intimate, it sets the orchestra firmly alongside the piano but never allowing either to dominate the other. The orchestral playing is exuberant, and Artur Pizarro’s performance is thoughtful and sensitive.

Although traditionally regarded as the more stormy and ‘romantic’ of the three later concertos, No.3 has much in common with Mozart’s final works for piano and orchestra. Perhaps with this in mind, Pizarro and Mackerras focus on its inherent intimacy and delicacy. In the second movement, for example, the relaxed tempo feels just right for the expressive largo. The final scherzo, meanwhile, is full of jokey Mozartian touches, and a genuinely entertaining dialogue between piano and orchestra. In contrast, the opening Allegro is a little too understated, with not enough ‘brio’ across the movement, particularly in the cadenza.

This timidity continues into the fourth concerto and rather kills off the surprise of Beethoven’s opening movement. Pizarro’s halting initial chords lack that sense of hushed mystery. And although he makes better work of the re-entry of the piano following the extended orchestral prelude, Pizarro and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra remain frustratingly timid. The plunging and rising chords of the central section are just too calm, and it isn’t until the recapitulation that the pace picks up. The brief second movement works well, with angry, chopping strings soothed by the piano’s gentle response. In the final Rondo, both soloist and orchestra bound along with huge energy and humour to produce a varied and satisfying conclusion.

The opening to Beethoven’s fifth ‘Emperor’ concerto is more promising than the fourth, with Pizarro and the Scottish Chamber players providing a suitably majestic introduction. But again, things begin to sag in the middle, with a gradual sapping of energy and retreat into timidity until vigour returns in the final section. The gentle touch is more fitting in Beethoven’s beautifully lyrical central adagio, with its mood of quiet reflection. The pace picks up again - and this time is sustained - in the final Rondo, with vibrant flourishes from both piano and orchestra. There is no doubting the technical skill on display in this recording, and it offers an intelligent and broadly satisfying reading of all three concertos. But for more excitement and daring, listeners might want to turn elsewhere.

John-Pierre Joyce

see also review by Simon Thompson



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