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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Benchmark performances, 3 Mar 2009
By 
Chris Onions (Wolverhampton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Piano Concertos - Beethoven (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beethoven Piano Concertos, 27 April 2013
By 
Robert W. Reed "bobthegas" (Carlisle, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Piano Concertos - Beethoven (Audio CD)
These are excellent quality recordings from Deutsche Grammophon that I have no regrets in buying. Piano playing at its best.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still a set of definitive performances after all these years, 4 Jan 2013
By 
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Piano Concertos - Beethoven (Audio CD)
This set of performances has been in my CD collection for decades and I have loved them from the start. Since then I have added other fine performances by other respected world-class pianists but none of them have surpassed Kempff's achievement here.

Kempff was famed for his absolute clarity of articulation and his subtlety of touch. His approach was very classical and this variety of touch giving variety to his phrasing was never at the expense of maintaining a tight rhythmical control. Furthermore he never exceeded the tonal limitations of the piano so there are no examples of undue heaviness, twanging strings or thumping foot pedals.

One consistent oddity to his Beethoven concertos and sonatas was a tendency to play the slow movements at a slightly faster tempo than was usual thus creating a forward sense of flow. The outer movements were often slightly steadier than was usual so, coupled with his rhythmic control and light touch, these movements dance more joyfully than usual. I have always been convinced by this readjustment of tempo balance within works.

All of this is to be found in abundance in these readings, both in the concertos and in the sonata.

The orchestral balance is more perfect than is often the case. Every one of the woodwind's crucial dialogue phrases with the piano and with each other are clearly audible as are the string's rhythmical accompanying chords etc. This perfect blend is due to a combination of faithful recording balance, good conducting and sensitive pianism.

The sonata recording is drier and for that reason I have always preferred the sound of his earlier mono set. Nevertheless the performance still remains as outstanding as the concertos although it will be for the concertos that this box set will most likely be bought.

These discs are a joy from start to finish. To paraphrase The Gramophone from years ago I would suggest that to hear Kempff playing Beethoven is like listening to Beethoven speaking to us directly without an intermediary. Kempff playing Beethoven was a very special talent and we are lucky to have such fine recordings of it. I would suggest that this set should therefore warrant serious consideration from all lovers of Beethoven's piano concertos and collectors of fine piano playing.

...............

Further comment:
Having read numerous reviews, which amount to rave reviews, from other contributors favouring the earlier set from 1953 in remastered mono featuring Kempff and the BPO conducted by Van Kempen, I have just bought that set. I can only agree with those other reviewers and find the older set to benefit greatly from Van Kempen's livelier conducting which leads Kempff and the BPO to combine in markedly greater interactive playing. The recording is easily a match for the later stereo version as above with every detail clearly audible.

This does affect the 5 star grade for the stereo version listed above as it is still a leading contender for all the stated reasons. However, I would agree that there is real competition from Kempff's own mono recording.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magical, 10 Jun 2009
This review is from: Piano Concertos - Beethoven (Audio CD)
One of the great sets. There are other ways of playing this music but no-one has ever matched Wilhelm Kempff in terms of magic, unless it was Kempff himself in his earlier set. Here is playing of the highest order, superbly accompanied. Kempff plays his own cadenzas, which upsets some people, but why not? You can get Beethoven's own on other sets. Worth a place in anyone's library for the sheer originality of the playing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant sound, 4 July 2013
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This review is from: Piano Concertos - Beethoven (Audio CD)
The clarity and purity of the piano, the tempo and the perfect recording, all makes these set of piano concertos of Beethoven a brilliant experience
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5.0 out of 5 stars excellent recording - the very best, 12 Feb 2013
By 
Uenna (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Piano Concertos - Beethoven (Audio CD)
This was a special investment for me, special because I like Beethoven's piano concertos,and have several recordings of them. However without the performance of the world's best interpreter of Beethoven my library was incomplete. I had to buy this acclaimed performance by Wilhelm Kempff, recorded in 1962 and 1964. The difference was enormous and I think Beethoven himself would have been very happy at the interpretation of his 5 Klavier konzerte by W.Kempff. I don't think words can describe how good this recording is, so I will not try but will urge anyone who loves Beethoven's work to listen to this performance and judge for yourself. I have yet to hear another performance that has topped this. Wilhelm Kempff was a great German pianist and composer,although he played Bach,Schumann,Chopin, Liszt,and Brahms, he was thought to be the best interpreter of the works of Beethoven and Schubert. His other recordings of their complete sonatas are also worth their weight in gold.
This is a 3 CD box by Deustche Grammophone in ADD.
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58 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the reasons why classical music still exists ..., 18 Nov 2003
This review is from: Piano Concertos - Beethoven (Audio CD)
I was originally unsure whether or not to buy this box set, but I have never looked back since. This is another of the main reasons that Classical music is still so popular : Without Beethoven's music, classical music would probably have only tottered between "grandezza" and "frivoltà".
The Deutsche Grammophon Box Set is of a usual high standard with an interesting booklet.
A must for both beginners and experts.
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Piano Concertos - Beethoven
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