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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Piano Concertos
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15 [37:01 + 2:09 applause]
Piano Concerto No.2 in B. Op.19 [28:40 + 2:09 applause]
Piano Concerto No.3 in c minor, Op.37 [35:12 + 1:58 applause]
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58 [34:11 + 1:34 applause]
Piano Concerto No.5 in G flat, Op.73 (Emperor) [37:03 + 2:03 applause]
Bonus - Documentary about Rudolf Buchbinder plus interview with Joachim Kaiser [28:13]
Rudolf Buchbinder (piano and conductor); Wiener Philharmoniker
rec. Goldener Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, 5-8 May 2011. DDD/DSD
Picture format 16:9. High definition (1080i)
PCM stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.0
Region code A-B-C
Booklet in English, German and French
Bonus subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Italian
Also available on DVD 708808.
UNITEL CLASSICA/C MAJOR 708904 [186:00 + 29:00 bonus: Buchbinder’s Beethoven, a musical conversation]

Experience Classicsonline


I’ve been absorbing individual concertos from this set for some time - longer than I ought, in fact, since I should have tied up this review long ago - without being able to sum up my attitude succinctly. Then I saw the performances described somewhere as unfailingly reliable and that’s just right. If you infer from that they’re also not the last word, you would be correct.
 
The distinguished veteran pianist Rudolf Buchbinder (b. 1946) made his debut at the tender age of 10 with a performance of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, in the Vienna Muikverein, no less. He has several distinguished Beethoven recordings to his credit, including a complete set of the Piano Sonatas entitled Beethoven: The Sonata Legacy (RCA 88697875102, 9 CDs, for about £38). Some individual recordings also survive from the set of the sonatas which he made for Teldec in the 1980s. On a smaller scale there is a 2-CD set of the cello sonatas, with János Starker and a single disc of the complete bagatelles, both on the budget-price Warner Apex label.
 
He has also recorded some of the Mozart Concertos for Profil (no longer available?) and on DVD for Euroarts - review - review and review, but I didn’t think that he had made commercial recordings of the Beethoven Piano Concertos.
 
I was wrong: in fact he has recorded Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 for CD Accord (ACD156-2 - see review), a live recording from the 2002 Beethoven Easter Festival, which continues to be available for £13.50, post free, direct from Musicweb International - here. Subscribers to the invaluable Naxos Music Library can check it out there. Even more surprisingly, there’s a complete recording 3-CD of the concertos on the Preiser label, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, which I haven’t been able to access. The Vienna Philharmonic are a more distinguished orchestra than their VSO neighbours.
 
As this new blu-ray and DVD set is offered as a take-or-leave package of all five concertos, there’s little point in comparing Buchbinder’s performances with those of individual or paired concertos. In any case, there are more complete recordings than you can shake a stick at, both on CD and DVD, Ashkenazy (Decca), Perahia (Medici) and Barenboim (Euroarts) chief among the latter. It’s the most recent CD recordings, not only of the five regular concertos but also of Beethoven’s own rearrangement of the Violin Concerto, the Triple Concerto and shorter works that I shall be using as my benchmark. Of this recording from Howard Shelley and the Orchestra of Opera North (Chandos CHAN10695, 4CDs) I recently wrote in my November 2011/2 Download Roundup:
 
If I say that Shelley and his team offer very good performances, with nothing that made me want to scratch away like Beckmesser at my critical slate, but that they didn’t bring any revelations in the ‘regular’ concertos, I don’t mean that as a criticism, rather as a statement of the extent to which all concerned seem to be at one with a composer who is often harder to gel with than we like to think. In fact, there were several passages where I noticed some aspects of the solo or orchestral writing that I hadn’t noticed before, even in Concerto No.1.

For most listeners, Shelley’s Beethoven-as-is approach, with clarity the hallmark, will be a positive virtue, though that doesn’t mean that there’s any lack of power, particularly in the Emperor. No one set can ever be definitive, especially with the likes of Schoonderwoerd’s revelatory chamber-size recordings on Alpha … to supplement the more conventional.
 
I’m always pleased to see others agreeing, as Dominy Clements did in his more detailed review of this set, which he made Recording of the Month - here. Meanwhile I’d already regretted my decision not to make Shelley’s recordings my Download of the Month - in self-defence I must add that there were at least three prime candidates that month - and atoned by including it in my six Recordings of the Year.
 
In many ways Buchbinder, like Shelley, offers the concertos without imposing himself on the music; the difference is that his enjoyment is both visually apparent and evident in his performances, even when playing the solo part and directing the orchestra is at its most hectic. The booklet refers to the ‘meticulous detail’ of Buchbinder’s preparation of the scores in order to achieve Beethoven’s intentions and there are times when it’s clear that he’s thinking carefully, but his face frequently lights up after moments when he’s been in deep concentration. 
 
Despite all the rude and intemperate things that he said about Haydn, Beethoven’s first two piano concertos clearly echo the music of Haydn and Mozart and neither Buchbinder nor Shelley tries to force these concertos into something bigger than they are. They both show clearly the transitional nature of Nos. 3 and 4 in performances that confirm my own ability to listen to these works more often than the more intense Emperor.

I promised not to make comparisons with recordings of individual concertos, but it’s interesting to see how Buchbinder’s tempi have broadened slightly since his earlier recording with the Sinfonietta Cracovia. I’ve thrown in Shelley’s timings, too, for comparison.
 

 
Sinfonia Cracovia
Vienna Philharmonic
Shelley
No.3/i
16:28
17:16
16:30
No.3/ii
8:40
9:07
9:24
No.3/iii
8:42
8:49
8:56
No.4/i
18:40
19:21
18:36
No.4/ii
4:47
4:51
4:58
No.4/iii
9:54
9:59
9:33
No.5/i
 
20:14
19:42
No.5/ii
 
7:05
7:37
No.5/iii
 
9:44
10:11


 
In fact it’s Buchbinder’s refusal to force the pace in the outer movements of No. 4 and the opening movement of No. 5 that constitutes one of the chief virtues of this new set. In those outer movements of the fourth he adopts noticeably broader tempi than Shelley, though they are in close agreement in the second movement. If push came to shove, however, I’d turn to Shelley rather than to Buchbinder - in the final analysis, he’s more successful in playing the solo and simultaneously keeping control of the orchestra, but he didn’t have the more difficult task of doing so in live performance.
 
If allowed two recordings for my desert island, I’d take Shelley and the older Stephen Kovacevich/Colin Davis set, formerly Philips and due for reissue in June 2012, with the Violin Concerto (Herman Krebbers), Romances (Arthur Grumiaux) and Triple Concerto (Claudio Arrau, Henryk Szeryng and Janos Starker) on Australian Eloquence 480 5946 - excellent value on 4 CDs: guide price around £18. Nos. 2 and 4 have also been refurbished and released on SACD by PentaTone, PTC5186101.
 
The Viennese audience are either much quieter than their Polish counterparts or the engineers have been more successful in keeping out any intrusions. More to the point, the Vienna Phil are a much smoother and more accomplished body of players than the Sinfonia Cracovia and it may be partly for this reason that Buchbinder felt free to relax his tempi slightly.
 
The recording is as much at one with the music as the performances and the picture on blu-ray is superb, with none of the shimmer from the Golden Hall that Austrian television seem unable to avoid in their otherwise excellent broadcasts of the New Year’s Concerts.
 
The booklet is superior to most of those which accompany DVD and blu-ray recordings. On sale in the UK for around £23, this is also one of the least expensive ways to obtain the complete Beethoven piano concertos, even if you intend to listen and not watch: played via my Cambridge Audio blu-ray player and audio system, the sound is easily up to SACD quality.
 
Brian Wilson

see also review by Geoffrey Molyneux 

Buchbinder's enjoyment is both visually apparent and evident in his performances.


 


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