Emanuel Ax really understands the poetic heart of this music. He highlights the dark melancholy of beethoven's music without ever becoming sacharine or sentimental. However, those looking for a barn burnig version of these concertos would do well to look elseware: Ax's performance is understated, with a focus on nuance, precision, color and dynamic shading. He never resorts to vulgar clanging in the forte passages. While not lacking in passion, his performance simly lets the music speak for itself.
One minor quible: the Choral Fantasy sounds like it was recorded in a TB ward, and the overall sound of this piece is notably inferior to the rest of the cycle. This is understandable, because the Fantasy was recorded live and at a different venue than the other recordings.
For an excellent Choral Fantasy, check out Helene Grimaud's "Credo" on DG.
Buy this set for the concertos.