Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat major, Op. 19 (1795) [29:30]
Piano Concerto No 4 in G major, Op. 58 (1806) [34:50]
Ingrid Jacoby (piano)
Sinfonia Varsovia/Jacek Kaspszyk
rec. 30-31 July 2011, Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw.
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5086 [64:23]
ICA Classics has issued a significant number of historic recordings, most, if not all, preserving live performances. However, so far as I am aware this is the first time they have issued brand new recordings.
We’re not exactly short of recordings of these concertos. The MusicWeb Masterworks index lists 41 recordings of the Second Piano Concerto and 62 versions of the Fourth - and that’s just recordings that have been reviewed here; goodness knows how many more are in the catalogue. However, I fancy the pairing of these two works on one disc is not one that is encountered all that often.
I like Richard Wigmore’s description of the Second in his notes: “a youthful charmer, saturated with the spirit of Haydn and Mozart but teeming with original ideas.” There are indeed Mozartian echoes in particular and this shouldn’t surprise us since, as Wigmore reminds us, though the piece was published in1801 it was begun as far back as 1788 and was completed by 1795. I liked this Jacoby/Kaspszyk performance a lot. The accompaniment by Sinfonia Varsovia is alert and nicely turned right from the start, though it sounds as if the acoustic of the studio was a bit reverberant. Ingrid Jacoby’s playing in the first movement is light and graceful. Her playing is clean and evinces a good deal of charm. Despite the fundamental grace, however, there’s strength when required. She plays the cadenza that Beethoven wrote in 1809 (11:35). The cadenza reflects the evolution of his style by then and is bold and quite substantial, more so than one would have expected, perhaps, from the preceding music. Jacoby does it well, playing with a good deal of rhythmic and rhetorical freedom once she’s past the formality of the fugal opening.
In the lovely slow movement she plays Beethoven’s highly decorated piano line very well indeed. She and Jacek Kaspszyk impart a nice flow to the music, which sounds at ease. The impish rondo finale is one of Beethoven’s ‘fun’ movements and invariably I enjoy it very much; I certainly enjoyed this account, which is energetic and witty, bringing to an end a smiling and engaging performance of the concerto.
The Fourth, my personal favourite in the canon, also comes off well. I wondered just once or twice in the first movement if the piano was perhaps recorded a bit forwardly in relation to the orchestra but, even if I’m right, I don’t think it’s a major issue. In the big first movement Miss Jacoby again plays with a good and appropriate mixture of grace and strength. She plays Beethoven’s first cadenza. Her playing in the second movement is calm and poetic; no wonder she can subdue the initially forthright strings. The finale is lively and given con brio yet, despite the fundamental liveliness both pianist and conductor succeed in giving full value to the lyrical stretches.
In both works Miss Jacoby faces formidable competition and everyone will have his or her own favourite version(s). My own favourite in the Fourth has been for many years now, and still is, Emil Gilels’ patrician account with Leopold Ludwig (review) while among newer versions both Paul Lewis (review) and Arthur Pizarro (review) are among those whose versions have strong claims on the attentions of collectors. We are equally spoiled for choice in the Second concerto. Paul Lewis (review) is, again, well worth hearing and the claims of Lars Vogt’s performance with Rattle should not be overlooked, though I suspect you can only get that as part of a boxed set at present (review). In both concertos there are memorable recordings by a whole host of great pianists who I haven’t even mentioned.
In such company Ingrid Jacoby’s new recordings shouldn’t be overlooked. This is an enjoyable and successful coupling, which I’m glad to have heard.
John Quinn  

An enjoyable and successful coupling. 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven Concerto 2 ~~ Concerto 4
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