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
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 BLU-RAY 708904 [186:00 + 29:00 bonus:
Buchbinder’s Beethoven, a musical conversation]
Video of this performance of Concerto No.1 available on YouTube here.
In the late 1960s Leonard Bernstein caused a stir in London’s Royal Albert
Hall when he played Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto whilst at the same
time conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. We were not used to this
sort of thing at the time. So that Bernstein could have maximum contact with
his players, he turned the piano such that he was in amongst them, facing the
orchestra with his back to the audience. He also removed the piano lid; in these
ways his gestures could be seen clearly by the orchestral players and he could
also maintain eye contact, an essential part of the conductor’s art. I
remember a pretty stunning and immaculate performance on that occasion, but
since then, most soloists have preferred to concentrate on their own music and
leave the orchestra under the direction of someone else.
Buchbinder is one of the exceptions, preferring to direct the orchestra himself
from the keyboard. He retains the normal soloist’s position with his profile
to the audience and he has the piano lid raised. Considering this, the ensemble
is remarkably good and mostly very tight, but there are times when there are
imprecisions in togetherness, not only in rhythm but also in homogeneity of
tone and colour. Sometimes I can hear less string sound at the start of a note,
for example. So although there are great advantages in having one musician ‘in
charge’ of a performance, I am largely in favour of using the services
of a conductor as well as a soloist, especially in recorded music when a performance
will be heard repeatedly and imprecise ensemble can become irritating.
That said, these performances are deeply felt and as the talk on the disc confirms,
very thoroughly researched by Buchbinder who compares many different editions
of the works he is performing.
I particularly liked the finales where there is real rhythmic vitality, combined
in the third and fifth concertos with excitement and drama. The first concerto
finale has wonderful wit and humour, but the opening of the fourth concerto
finale is marred by poor ensemble caused by lack of a conductor. A really clear
gesture must be given here to ensure precision and clarity.
Some movements are a little slow and heavy by modern standards. For example
in the first movement of Concerto No.1, Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis on
CD give a much lighter and more deft performance. Buchbinder chooses to play
the first of Beethoven’s three cadenzas, slightly adapted towards the
end, and he plays it superbly. Most players, including Kovacevich, play the
longer and more dramatic third cadenza, whilst Argerich plays the second. It
would be interesting to know why Buchbinder chose the first cadenza. The enclosed
booklet talks about Buchbinder’s career and gives us some information
about his study of the many editions that have appeared since Beethoven’s
time, but more details of the results of his studies would have been welcome.
However, the bonus interview on the disc with Joachim Kaiser is very interesting
The first movement of Concerto No.3 is hardly allegro con brio and the
first movement of Concerto No.4, marked to be played allegro moderato
is much moremoderato than allegro. A little more rhythmic life
would not come amiss in these movements. In Concerto No.4 Buchbinder gradually
moves the pace forwards as the music progresses, but for me this is one of the
less successful movements. Although the sound is often beautiful, the performance
is sometimes sluggish and there are tiny imperfections in ensemble and intonation.
In the second movement, Buchbinder’s orchestra plays the opening theme
really staccato, as marked in the two editions of Beethoven’s score
that I own, to telling effect.
The high point of these performances for me is the Emperor, which I enjoyed
immensely. It really takes fire, has great rhythmic energy and verve in the
outer movements, and Buchbinder produces some beautiful tone and the subtlest
of rubato in the slower sections. Magnificent playing all round with
some incisive and vigorous playing.
It must have been a great occasion to hear these performances live and this
is a fine record of the event. The playing is highly efficient and thoughtful
with some wonderful, poetic moments, but somehow the performances do not achieve
the greatest heights.
On a lighter note, I would not recommend buying this disc as an introduction
to classical music for youngsters. There are many close-ups of the players,
but sometimes they look so middle-aged, often miserable and grey. I wish the
Vienna Philharmonic would cheer up a bit. As a music teacher, I think this could
put a beginner off classical music for life! For children, maybe it is better
to turn off the picture and just listen to some fine music making. But for the
rest of us, this is a disc well worth seeing as well as hearing.
This is a disc well worth seeing as well as hearing.