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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 Emperor (1809/11) [37:34]
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op.111 (1821/22) [24:21]
Nelson Freire (piano)
Gewandhausorchester/Riccardo Chailly
rec. 5-8 March 2014, Gewandhaus, Leipzig, Germany (Concerto), 21-23 February 2014, Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany (Sonata)
DECCA 478 6771 [61:58]

In his seventieth birthday year Nelson Freire begins a cycle of the Beethoven piano concertos. In 2007 the same forces issued acclaimed accounts of the two Brahms concertos.
 
Beethoven wrote the Piano Concerto No. 5 Emperor during a dreadfully testing period. Napoleon’s armies had reached the gates of Vienna and the city was under siege suffering weighty artillery bombardment. During some of this time Beethoven sought shelter in cellars. In addition his life as a virtuoso pianist had ended owing to his profound deafness. It was soloist Friedrich Schneider who gave the première in 1811 at the Gewandhaus, Leipzig. It seems that a publisher first named the work as the Emperor but the nickname stuck. Little of Beethoven’s torment is in evidence in the Emperor - a score of boldness and grandeur and one of his most heroic works.
 
The Emperor is brilliantly played here — sparkling, joyous and passionate yet displaying real integrity. The Gewandhausorchester who know this work intimately is in outstanding form throughout. Freire plays the huge opening Allegro with exhilarating vitality and in the Adagio there is unerring sensitivity to his meltingly poetic playing. In the thrilling closing Rondo: Allegro Freire brings to bear an abundance of vivacity but this comes at the expense of fluidity.
 
The catalogue has numerous excellent alternative recordings. This account rubs shoulders with my top three chosen for their artistry and integrity and now regarded as classic recordings. First the 1961 Berlin account from Wilhelm Kempff with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Ferdinand Leitner on Deutsche Grammophon. Another recording is by Arturo Michelangeli with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini a live 1979 broadcast from Vienna on Deutsche Grammophon. In addition there is Emil Gilels with the Philharmonia under Leopold Ludwig from 1957 at Abbey Road, London on EMI.
 
Composed in 1821-22 the Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op.111 is Beethoven’s last piano sonata. He went on to write the Diabelli Variations. Poise and passion mark Freire’s performance of the squally opening movement. Overflowing with incident the substantial Arietta — a theme and set of nine variations — is compellingly done with a sense of dignity. Despite Freire’s splendid playing I have yet to hear a performance as authoritative as that by Maurizio Pollini from 1977 at the Herkulessaal, Munich on Deutsche Grammophon.
 
The Decca booklet notes include a short interview with Freire but additional information about the two compositions would have been preferable. With the concerto recorded at Gewandhaus, Leipzig and the sonata at Teldex Studio, Berlin the engineers have excelled. The sound delivered is clear and well balanced. On the evidence of this initial release the collaboration between Freire and the Gewandhausorchester under Riccardo Chailly looks set to bear glorious fruit.
 
Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index: Concerto 5 ~~ Sonata 32