Customer Review

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SIZE IS OPTIONAL, 29 Jun 2009
This review is from: Beethoven - Piano Concertos 3, 4 & 5 [Hybrid SACD] (Audio CD)
This is a very high quality production of its kind. Whether its kind will suit you I have no way of knowing, but I shall do what I can to explain what you will find here.

First, the orchestra is a chamber group, with 46 artists playing in each concerto. If you are accustomed to the 5th piano concerto played by a larger ensemble, so am I, and I can report truthfully that I sensed no lack of power or of full tone anywhere here. The conductor is the evergreen Sir Charles Mackerras, and as it is the orchestra that really sets the style, even in the 5th concerto, expect to hear orchestral introductions that are urbane rather than emphatic. I suppose that this is an issue mainly in no 3, where the first movement is directed to be played `allegro con brio'. I find myself hesitant to express a definite opinion about the way Mackerras handles this. Certainly I could imagine more brio, but thinking of other cases where Beethoven gives this instruction I don't seem to find it in the fieriest pieces. The first movement of the Eroica symphony and of the Waldstein sonata are `allegro con brio', for instance, whereas the far tenser first movements of the 5th symphony and the sonata Appassionata are not.

Pizarro's tone fits this approach like a glove, being rich in quality and not conveying any sense of deliberate restraint. Technically nothing bothers him, and that is more than one can say even today for many players in the rondo theme from no 5. Likewise his despatch of the fiendish sequences in that work's first movement where the left hand descends in chromatic scales in a cross-rhythm against the right hand is satisfyingly vigorous and uninhibited. It is not how Michelangeli or Serkin do it, but they are a different story.

However what I really admire most about this set is its clarity of purpose and coherency in execution. Soloist and conductor are fully on each other's wavelength, and absolutely everywhere I found the rhythmic control and consistency to be total. There are not many `special effects', although Pizarro plays the first chord of no 4 as an arpeggio. Tempi are for the most part fairly `normal', except for the adagio un poco mosso of no 5. To me, the speed here is an outright andante and no kind of adagio at all, but if it is too fast I call that a good fault, being as accustomed as I am to hearing the thing treated like a dirge for a Sunday in Lent. Where I like their tempo with no qualification is in the slow movement of no 4. This is marked `andante con moto' and for once it is played andante con moto. The usual problem is that soloists find this tempo hard to reconcile with their ideas of `expressiveness' in their replies to the orchestra, to which I would counter that the problem is their ideas of expressiveness.

Given the competition, any issue like this has to fight hard for a 5th star. What gets the 5th star from me is the handling of the slow movement of no 3. I think this is, quite literally, the best I ever heard in my life, keeping me spellbound through a movement that up to now I have never really been very fond of. There is some natural flexibility in the speed, and that is a characteristic of these performances throughout, but Pizarro is completely awesome at the start, dead slow in tempo and beautiful in tone. To that add some of the orchestral work later, and I believe you are likely to agree with me.

If I may, I shall just say something as well about being careful of first impressions. My own first impression of the recording was that it was slightly muffled, so if that is your first impression too I beg you to listen again. Whether it had to do with the ambient temperature of my sitting room, or with vagaries of my own physiology, or whether it was just because I had been listening intently for some time before to a very demanding set of unfamiliar Handel in which the recording majored in clarity more than in charm, this impression was plain wrong, and I believe you will find the recorded sound here friendly and appealing once you get used to it. Similarly if you find the playing at all underpowered, listen again. As I said earlier, Serkin is something else, but the world of Beethoven is big enough for more than one approach to him.
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DAVID BRYSON
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Location: Glossop Derbyshire England

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