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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Benchmark performances for me, 5 Mar. 2009
By 
Chris Onions (Wolverhampton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 4 (Audio CD)
Beethoven's piano concertos are all masterpieces. It is only 4 & 5 that really break the Mozartian mould but all five are wonderful pieces of music in their own right. The early ones do sound rather like Mozart. So what. Is this a bad thing? We don't criticise Mozart for sounding like Mozart.

Although 5 is the grandest and probably still the most popular, my personal favourites are 3 & 4

The versions discussed are all good versions, by first-class pianists with excellent conductors and orchestras, which will undoubtedly give lots of listening pleasure.

I got to know Beethoven's piano concertos via Wilhelm Kempff's stereo cycle and via Stephen Kovacevich, and both remain benchmarks for me in different ways. In music you often fall in love with what you hear first and that's how it is for me.

Kempff's playing (on DG) is magical in all five as is Leitner's orchestral accompaniment with the Berlin Philharmonic. Kempff's style is essentially classical throughout so no bombast or overstatement but no awkwardness or ugliness. Evenness of quality throughout means every single moment of every movement is a pleasure to listen to. Still, some might find these performances lacking in the very last ounce of strength e.g. at the commencement of the recapitulation in 4/1 (see next paragraph). In 4/3 there is diamond precision and drama. The analogue recording is good - not just for the 1960's - good period.

Kovacevich and Davis on Philips. A different kind of magic - Kovacevich has all the ruggedness, strong contrasts and raw emotion that some might miss in Kempff. 4/1 is absolutely magnificent: compare the same moment at the start of the recapitulation, when the piano almost jumps out of the speakers - Kovacevich delivering Beethoven at his most noble and majestic. 4/3 however sounds too hard-driven for me by comparison with Kempff. Then again the slow movement in 3 is wonderfully played - the opening bars are very poignant and searching indeed. But in the slow movement in 5, the piano entry is too quiet - inaudible above the orchestral background. The quality is uneven then, but at their best these performances are unequalled and I would not be without them. Analogue recording is fine - better than Kempff unsurprisingly since recorded about ten years later.

Uchida and Sanderling also on Philips. Mitsuko Uchida's recordings of the Mozart piano sonatas and concertos both receive praise, although some find the concertos too prettified and insufficiently robust in her hands. This description might also be applied to Uchida's Beethoven - lovely playing from pianist and orchestra, but, more so than Kempff, lacking strength. Still there is plenty to enjoy all the way through, no shortage of drama, and some very fine moments e.g. the closing moments of 3/1 could hardly be played better - utterly spellbinding. Excellent digital recording.

Perahia and Haitink on CBS. In many ways with Perahia you get the best of both worlds, refinement and strength (plus digital recording). His magnificent piano playing has all the consistent sparkle of Kempff together with the wide dynamic range and dramatic contrasts of Kovacevich, matched all the way by Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. In all fairness these are probably the finest versions I know of all five concertos and I can strongly recommend them. Inevitably at times I think ah yes but Kempff does this or Kovacevich does that, but I am sure anyone coming to these concertos for the first time would easily find plenty to delight and fall in love with. Take for instance the last moments of 3/3 when the music modulates from minor to major...... Not to say that other versions aren't worth having......
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still a benchmark reading after all these years, 13 Feb. 2013
By 
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 4 (Audio CD)
These recordings, made in 1971 and 1974, have been constantly available in the catalogue since they were made and appearing in re-mastered or re-badged forms as time has passed. Throughout all this time they have regularly occupied a reference position which is quite remarkable given the number of recordings of these concertos made over the years.

There are other recordings that have also withstood the passage of time in terms of changes of emphasis and recording quality Kempff springs readily to mind as do Gilels and Perahia for example. More recently there has also been a fine version of all the concertos by Paul Lewis which is also been spoken of in the same glowing terms.

However, all of these versions differ in ways that may be indicative of the periods in which they were made and the conductors involved. Kempff, the earliest, is notable for his gentility, poise and classical clarity with absolutely nothing over-stated. I grew up with these performances and still find that they seem absolutely natural and in the scale that Beethoven might recognise. Gilels brings a similar sense of classical restraint but this time with more muscle and drive - possibly the influence of his conductor, Szell, who was not known for relaxation. Perahia and Haitink bring thoughtfully satisfying readings, just a bit on the sober side, and with just a bit more weight than that in Perahia's wonderful Mozart set. Paul Lewis equally brings a balanced set with nothing extreme and closest to Kempff but a touch more powerful.

Stephen Kovacevich takes a more forthright view than any of the above. There is a clear forward pulse, sharply defined accents and a wider dynamic range. These readings point the way to the approaching Romantic period, yet to be thought of. Colin Davis exercises a steadying hand, which is a good thing, bearing in mind Kovacevich's almost aggressively assertive approach to the sonatas in later years. This set of the concertos is another one I value tremendously for its energy and drive, while avoiding excesses. It has more character than Kempff but not as much 'gentlemanly' good manners. I also own the Lewis set which I respect but have not yet grown to put it on a par with Kempff or Kovacevich.

I would suggest therefore that this disc of the concertos 3 and 4 suits Kovacevich very well as they both respond to his forthright approach, number 3 more than 4. If that approach is how purchasers view these works then I would suggest that this very respected disc deserves serious consideration, if not as an only buy, then certainly as an alternative view.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 17 April 2015
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This review is from: Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 4 (Audio CD)
One can never have too many recordings of someone like Beethoven. This is a good addition to the collection!
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Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 4
Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 4 by Kovacevich (Audio CD - 1997)
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