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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58a (1805/6) [32:52]
Quintet for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon in E flat, Op. 16b (1801) [26:44]
François-Frédéric Guy (piano); aRadio France Philharmonic Orchestra/Philippe Jordan; bHélène Devilleneuve (oboe); bJérôme Voisin (clarinet); bAntoine Dreyfuss (horn); bJean-François Duquesnoy (bassoon)
rec. aSalle Olivier Messiaen, Maison de Radio France, December 2006, bStudio 106, Maison de Radio France in June 2008
NAÏVE V5148 [59:39]
Experience Classicsonline

My general feelings about Francois-Frederic Guy have been ambivalent. I was particularly disappointed with his Brahms Second Concerto, and was largely unmoved by his second recording of the Hammerklavier. For the disc under discussion here, Guy presents an intriguing coupling, a coupling that in itself might introduce some listeners to Beethoven’s wonderful piano and wind quintet. 

The Fourth Concerto opens with a poetically, ruminatively-phrased soliloquy from Guy. The orchestra’s response is more tied to an objectivist, almost authenticist approach, which creates an interesting friction. They are agreed on one thing – there will not be many hints of Beethoven the titan here. There is an expert hand guiding the cadenza which builds to a fine climax. All is perfectly controlled, reminding us that Guy is indeed a fine pianist. 

The second movement features a rather restrained orchestra - just exactly who is this Orpheus taming? Guy’s finger dexterity, much in evidence during the first movement, is most suited to the finale. If only there was more fire there. Orchestral clarity is noteworthy, though, especially the lower string semiquavers just prior to the conclusion. The timpani, curiously, seem rather muffled, as if the player has chosen the most woolly sticks he can find – a curious decision given the otherwise admirable credentials of the orchestral contribution, so one has to assume the recording is at fault here. 

There are so many fine alternatives in this piece, from Pollini through Brendel to Gieseking, that Guy’s recording almost becomes otiose. The saving grace might be the coupling. 

The Piano and Wind Quintet, by contrast, is a success. Here chamber music intimacy is married with open-air grandeur: the dotted rhythms of the opening. Yet there is sunshine aplenty in the Allegro ma non troppo (perfectly paced) and a real sense of communication between the players. All four of the wind soloists - for present purposes we will consider the horn a wind instrument - are excellent. Antoine Dreyfuss’ nimble horn playing is particularly noteworthy in the first movement, while the expressive solos for all of the soloists in the central Andante cantabile are simply beautiful. Guy’s limpid tone, his excellent control of cantabile and his ability to act as a true chamber musician shows him at his very best here; a best to which I had not previously been exposed.  The players bring some drama into the finale, providing just the right amount of contrast to the gemütlich main rondo theme. A comparative version of much historical interest is that with Benjamin Britten on the piano and Dennis Brain on horn. This is from 1957 and can be found on BBC Legends BBCL4164-2. 

A mixed release, then, with the coupling outshining the main offering.

Colin Clarke



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