Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 Emperor (1809) [36:51]
Piano Sonata No.28 in A, Op.101 (1816) [18:40]
Robert Casadesus (piano)
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Hans Rosbaud
rec. February 1961 (Concerto) and February 1964 (Sonata), Concertgebouw
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802050 [55:31]
When it came to the Beethoven concertos, Robert Casadesus faced misfortune in the recording studio. The plan to record all five with George Szell was shelved, and Szell smartly moved on to record all five with Leon Fleisher. Next, Casadesus was teamed with Eduard van Beinum in Amsterdam in 1959, a plan that was thwarted on the conductor’s early death: only the first and fourth were taped. Thus on his return to the city in 1961 Philips teamed the Frenchman with the gaunt Hans Rosbaud, a specialist in the Second Viennese School, which is the recording that Newton has restored. But before another collaboration could be preserved, Rosbaud too promptly died. Casadesus was thus attended by solid bad luck throughout his attempt to record the cycle of five concertos. Indeed he was never to complete the task.
I can’t say I’m a huge admirer of the Emperor that emerged from Amsterdam in February 1961, though it has an intriguing tension between Rosbaud’s more military and crisp instincts and Casadesus’s more emollient affiliations. This is not always the conductor’s fault, as Casadesus seems always to have taken the finale at a dangerously leisurely, somewhat under-inflected tempo. His performance with Rosbaud is, in this respect, not much better than that with Christoph von Dohnányi in Cologne [Medici Masters MM032-1] and on a par with the Mitropoulos New York Philharmonic version [Sony Classical 5033952].
There’s something curt and rather cut-and-thrust about the conductor’s marshalling of the orchestra that can limit one’s admiration, though there is also a lack of obvious ‘weight’ that may well appeal to those sated with bombastic interpretations from around this time. The best playing comes in the slow movement which the pianist invariably took at a sympathetic and unsentimental tempo and articulated warmly but not cloyingly. The finale is rather portly all round, lacking ebullience and indeed energy. There are also some imprecisions in the tuttis.
The companion work is the Op.101 sonata recorded in the same city three years later, but this time captured ‘live’ at a recital. There is considerable probity and discretion at work here, and the music really comes alive. The March second movement is well sprung, and the slow movement warm but again not indulged. And whilst not note perfect, the finale is dispatched with control and fire. Newton has retained the applause.
Unlike a recent Henryk Szeryng disc from Newton, which said nothing about the violinist, the notes here say quite a bit about the pianist. This is something of a mixed bag, interpretatively, but at its best it alerts one, yet again, to Casadesus’s stature in the pianistic firmament.
Jonathan Woolf
A mixed bag but at its best it alerts one to Casadesus’s stature.