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5.0 out of 5 stars The conclusion of a consistently satisfying concerto cycle of quality, 5 Oct 2013
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Piano Concerto No 5 (Audio CD)
This well recorded from 2005 contains yet another fine concerto performance from Bronfman, a cleanly articulate performance of the Choral Fantasy and what seems to be a good performance of the totally rare and short Meeresstille und Gluckliche Fahrt, a choral setting of two contrasting Goethe poems.

The style of all three recordings here is completely consistent with the other recordings in this attractive series. Zinman is an enthusiastic follower of the 'period' approach to music making and as regards Beethoven, this takes the form of using a reduced modern orchestra but with natural brass and hard sticks for the timpani. The use of natural brass allows the players to play loudly with cutting edge but without the power of the modern instruments. This has a beneficial effect on the orchestral balances and is a compromise solution favoured by an increasing number of conductors.

Speeds are therefore forward moving without being excessive. Textures are clarified without becoming thin. Internal dialogues between instruments are improved and rhythms are well defined. Bronfman, as a pianist, is completely in tune with this approach and the empathy of such a partnership makes for lively performances full of interest.

These features inform all three works presented here and both the concerto and Choral Fantasy join others at the top of the desirable list. The rare extra choral item adds to the interest and generosity of the release and for many this will be a deciding factor in deciding whether to buy the disc or not.

I would suggest that on the basis of the two main works this disc deserves the most serious consideration in what can only be described as an intensely competitive field. There can never be a clear winner in such a situation, but this could well be considered as one of the leading contenders and at an extremely affordable price point.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A strong partnership and one of the very finest recordings of the Emperor concerto, 2 Mar 2014
This review is from: Piano Concerto No 5 (Audio CD)
Having several established sets of the Beethoven concertos already and various single discs I wasn't really looking to start another cycle, but a chance buying of a companion disc at a knock down price made me look out the rest of this cycle. All of the performances in this cycle are a knock-out, superb fresh performances in superb fresh sound.

When it comes to the fifth concerto especially this team are obviously up against some of the greatest soloists, conductors and orchestras. In my view this recording easily defends its position as one of the finest Beethoven piano concerto recordings ever made. The sound is incredibly rich and clear and that is perhaps the first obvious point about this notable disc. This performance of the Emperor finely articulated, powerful and imaginative is a glorious account.

The vividly dramatic encore in the Choral Fantasia simply adds to the attractions of this superb disc. Don't hesitate.
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5.0 out of 5 stars BURIED TREASURE, 27 Oct 2012
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Piano Concerto No 5 (Audio CD)
It was not for the `Emperor' concerto that I bought this disc, because I already owned 24 versions of that. It was for the mini-cantata Calm Sea & Prosperous Voyage, which I may never have come across before, and as that came bundled with a cut-price Emperor I went for it. In the event I have got one of the best Emperors I have ever heard, ditto regarding the Choral Fantasia, and I guess as good a Calm Sea & P V, what little there is of it, as I am ever likely to encounter again.

Just a word of caution in case anyone starts by finding the recorded sound a little dull. I did at first, but by the time of the Choral Fantasia I was forgetting to notice that, and at the end of the disc I replayed the first movement of the concerto to check what I thought of the sound. It seemed fine to me this time, I should know by now that such impressions can vary with short-term acoustic conditions, but I keep forgetting that. Really, I have not a word of criticism to offer of this Emperor. It joins two dozen rivals with no outright winner in my collection, but it belongs right up there with Serkin and Michelangeli, the leaders of the pack so far. Those are outsize personalities, and Yefim Bronfman is not quite that, but he doesn't have to be. He is a major artist in his own right, and this is an account of one of Beethoven's greatest compositions that is full of life, power, conviction and insight. In a sense, I suppose, the Emperor concerto comes as near to playing itself as any major classic does. It doesn't pose any major questions of interpretation, but to say the least not just every major virtuoso can play it as well as Bronfman does. My admiration of this account is not a matter of box-ticking but of the player's conception of the work, but let me tick a few boxes just the same, because there are some major hurdles that he surmounts especially well.

Start with the rondo theme. The first record of this concerto that I owned, guided by the review in The Gramophone, was the Solomon/Menges version, and Solomon's delivery of the rondo theme is to this day the worst I ever heard. It was not long afterwards that I heard the best delivery of same, by one Rudolf Serkin then unknown to me, and the way he does it in his 1958 live performance with the RAI orchestra in Naples is still the best, even allowing for a wrong note after he has got the hardest part over. I see that Bronfman is a pupil of Serkin. He is no mere imitator, but he must have learned a lot, one thing being how to play that ultra-tricky passage at all, another being that the `ff' marking does not finish with the right-hand part but carries on for two more notes in the left. These days we should not tolerate any playing of the difficult passage in contrary motion, occurring twice in the first movement, that gives the LH part with less than full volume and a staccato touch; and again Bronfman comes up trumps. Particularly impressive too is his majestic delivery of the faux-bourdon effects in the coda of the first movement. The slow movement is outstandingly beautiful, rivalling Michelangeli and Gould even in the `nodding' effect near the end that so enraptured Berlioz in his Treatise on Instrumentation. The long trill towards the close of the whole work is superb, but so are Bronfman's trills all the way through, and indeed his entire technique is utterly assured.

The Choral Fantasia was the piece they used in Serkin's day to conclude the annual Marlboro festival, and it is one account from there that has been my `marker' performance for decades. Whether Bronfman ever attended Marlboro I don't know but I should be surprised if not. Once again I sense the influence of Serkin, once again this is no exercise in cloning but an original realisation, and in particular let me compliment the vocalists, who for some reason are ignored in the liner note. There is less for the vocalists to do in the little cantata with the long title simply because there is not much of that in the first place, but so far as I can tell they do it very well, and now I know a work by Beethoven that I didn't know yesterday. This disc seems to have been reissued with a different cover, but I don't suppose there has been any remastering as none would have been needed. In which case, hopefully, I can apply to that what I have said in the foregoing few paragraphs. It seems to be part of a series dedicated to Switzerland's oldest orchestra the Zurich Tonhalle, and in particular to the conductor David Zinman. They all acquit themselves well, but I hardly need say by now which performer it is that excites me. The note is in German and English. Its content is of no great consequence, saying how good the music is and how it does this then that then the other, as we can all hear for ourselves. More significant is the material on conductor soloist and orchestra, but as the singers are undeservedly ignored, let me repeat my short acknowledgement of their fine work, part of an issue that is in many ways quite exceptional. Perhaps the relabelling will help give Bronfman the higher public profile that I feel he may have been unjustly denied.
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Piano Concerto No 5
Piano Concerto No 5 by Beethoven^Bronfman^Zinman^Zurich Tonhalle (Audio CD - 2006)
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