Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 (1797) [34:46]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat major, Op. 19 (1787-9) [29:59]
Emil Gilels (piano)
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/André Vandernoot
rec. 1959
REGIS RRC1412 [64:59]
Influenced by Mozart’s tendency towards tight phrasing and expression, Beethoven’s first and second piano concertos sound more ‘classical’ in style and structure than his later works. These two concertos obediently adhere to a pattern consisting of a quick opening movement in sonata form, a slow and expressive introspective movement, followed by a faster flourishing rondo,. Beginning with a lengthy orchestral introduction, the solo piano enters with a new theme which is then repeated throughout. Under the affirmative omnipresence of Belgian conductor André Vandernoot, the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra here demonstrates great dynamic range and crystalline definition.  

Although Beethoven performed on numerous private occasions during his first few years in Vienna, his official Viennese debut did not occur until April 1800, when he was the featured soloist and composer in a Hofburgtheater concert. The programme included Beethoven's Septet, his First Symphony, and his Piano Concerto in C Major Op. 15 (which was to become known as his first concerto). The evening also included a Mozart symphony and selections from Haydn's oratorio The Creation. Composed in 1797 - after the Second Concerto - and dedicated to his pupil Countess Anna Louise Barbara Keglevics, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, though seemingly restrained in comparison to his brooding third (in C Minor) or fifth (Emperor) concertos, hints at the inquisitiveness and poise of his later works.
Whilst in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 there is a respectful distance between the piano and orchestra, there are at times moments of exquisite synergy where the idea of the creator’s doppelganger is expressed through music. Though perhaps not ‘revolutionary’ or challenging these works began to reform the standard piano concerto. With a spry Rondo (Allegro), Beethoven stamps this concerto with authoritative vigour, inventiveness and vitality.

In particular, the Largo is an irresistible exploration of the psyche. In the distant, dark key of A-flat major, beginning with a slow version of the march rhythm, this central movement is inward looking and contemplative. 

Topped and tailed in youthful jocundity, Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto encases one of his most soft and svelte Adagios. Opening with an orchestral presentation of the theme, this movement removes all fussy embellishments to expose naked emotion. Pure tranquillity morphs into onomatopoeic pictures of spring in the Rondo. This brings to mind Beethoven’s opinion that: ‘Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.’
Demonstrating sensitivity and with an exactingly crisp definition to each note, Emil Gilels’s 1957 recording is both intimate and universal. The improvisatory quality is not lost in his freshness and energy and is balanced with a quiet spiritual sense of the Romantic spirit. With moments of fortitude and panache in the first and third movements of each the concertos Gilels certainly commands the stage though perhaps not knocking over candles as Beethoven did when he was performing.

Lucy Jeffery 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano concerto 1 ~~ Piano concerto 2

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