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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15 [36:20]
Piano Concerto No.3 in c minor, Op.37 [36:26]
Ingrid Jacoby (piano)
Sinfonia Varsovia/Jacek Kaspszyk
rec. 7-9 April 2013, Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw. DDD.
ICA CLASSICS ICAC5107  [72:46]

With this release Ingrid Jacoby completes, in a very short space of time, her cycle of the Beethoven piano concertos. I’ve reviewed the two previous volumes: I was impressed with her first release, pairing the Second and Fourth Concertos (review), but a little less sure about her performance of the Emperor (review). How will this latest coupling fare?
 
The performance of the First Concerto opens auspiciously, courtesy of a sprightly rendition of the orchestral introduction by Sinfonia Varsovia and Jacek Kaspszyk. Jacoby’s playing in this movement gives much pleasure; her fingerwork is crisp and delicate and she invests the music with an appropriate degree of energy. As the movement unfolded I enjoyed her imagination and the smiling countenance she imparts to the music. She plays (at 12:42) the third and most extended of the cadenzas that Beethoven later wrote down for this concerto - in 1809, I think. The cadenza is done very well though I was mildly surprised by a small cut towards the end.
 
Miss Jacoby makes a dreamy, romantic start to the Largo; some may feel it’s too late-Romantic in style but I was convinced. However, during the course of this movement I became increasingly conscious of the pianist’s use of rubato for expressive effect. Of course, a degree of rubato is to be expected and is desirable but it seemed to me that, cumulatively, the extent of the rubato here is such that the flow of the music is sometimes impeded and the movement comes to sound a little unstable. The rondo finale is very enjoyable; Beethoven’s high spirits are well conveyed by soloist and orchestra; Miss Jacoby’s playing is clean and deft. Despite my slight reservation about the Largo - which may not be shared by other listeners - this is a most enjoyable account of the First Concerto.
 
In the booklet accompanying the Emperor concerto we learnt that Ingrid Jacoby is a direct descendant of the Prussian Prince Louis Ferdinand, the dedicatee of the Third Concerto. Oddly, that information isn’t repeated in the notes for the recording of the Third Concerto itself, so far as I can see. The performance of the first movement is a success. Miss Jacoby’s playing is lithe and graceful and Kaspszyk and his orchestra support her effectively. She projects Beethoven’s cadenza well. The recording itself is good, though not exceptional, and the piano is in the foreground; there were times when I felt the piano was masking the orchestra when the band was playing at a soft dynamic. However, that was not a major issue and the performance itself more than held my attention.
 
The Largo goes very well. Ingrid Jacoby offers poised playing and invests the music with a suitable amount of feeling. There’s a lot to enjoy in the rondo, too; much of it is nicely vivacious. I was a little thoughtful about the episode, shortly after the short cadenza where (at 3:29) the clarinet leads off a passage marked dolce. The music invites a slightly slower tempo, though no slowing is marked, and I’ve heard many accounts where this is done. On this occasion it seemed to me that the relaxation was just a little too much and the performance appeared to lose some momentum until the tempo picks up again where the strings begin a brief fugato (4:29). Something odd seems to happen in the concluding presto passage in 6/8 time. Jacoby sets off at a nice lively pace but after eight bars, when she starts to play again, she seems to drag the speed back a notch, which is a pity since the initial pace seemed well-nigh ideal. Perhaps there’s been an edit? This may seem a small point but a look at the relevant Masterwork Index shows how many great versions of this concerto are already in the catalogue and in such company margins are fine. I enjoyed a lot of this concerto performance but in the last analysis, for all its merits, I don’t think it challenges the very best.
 
There, perhaps, you have in a nutshell a verdict on the cycle as a whole. I’ve enjoyed all three discs and shall be glad to have them in my collection even if they don’t disturb existing library recommendations. Anyone buying this disc, either ‘on spec’ or to complete the cycle will find much to enjoy here.
 
John Quinn 

See also download review by Geoffrey Molyneux 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano concerto 1 ~~ Piano concerto 3


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