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Customer Review

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SCO, Mackerras, Pizarro: Beethoven P Ctos 3, 4, 5: SACD Surround Sound Recreates Vital Beethoven, 26 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Beethoven - Piano Concertos 3, 4 & 5 [Hybrid SACD] (Audio CD)
At first glance by all rights, this pairing of big-toned pianist Artur Pizarro with the reduced band forces of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra ( led by Sir Charles Mackerras) should not work very well. The inherent potential contradictions between Pizarro's big singing tone, and the lively ensemble with a smaller number of players that a chamber orchestra typically indicates could reasonably be expected to sabotage the whole reading.

Truth is, that just doesn't happen on this set. All three piano concertos are high contenders. Three, Four, and Five (The Emperor).

Part of the thriving must be chalked up to the super audio surround sound which brings all the players to live so warmly, yet so clearly. The venue is the Perth Hall, UK. A quick glance at the set booklet reveals that the venerable James Mallinson was producer. If any producer should be able to get it right, Mallinson is surely on the A&R short lists. So. All in all, this set is a musical demo - not necessarily a flash and cannons demo - of what super audio surround sound can do for Beethoven well played. Recommended sound.

Pizarro does not try to shrink down his basic tone in these readings; that would be a musical mistake. What he does, is take very alert pains to vary his touch and phrasing so that his playing comes across in keeping with the overall warmth-plus-clarity-in-Beethoven that we are getting full tilt from the band. The gaps, between hearing a chamber band do Beethoven vigorously and hearing a big-handed player do the piano, never really materialize.

What does materialize in abundance is heart, singing tone, and a punch to drive home the intellectual and musical story. This Beethoven is a free thinking eighteenth century humanist, no doubt; but he has a genius that subsumes even his very high intellect, bringing it all together. The changing tonal shadings of Pizarro's playing are a constant delight without having to call undue attention to the basically luxurious sensuality embodied in Pizarro's touch. His tone is articulate as well as gorgeous, even when he stops pedaling and does all that music with his hands and arms and shoulders.

The consistent picture of Beethoven in this set is completely in keeping with the Beethoven view of the already released complete set of symphonies. The symphony set involved the SCO again led by Sir Charles Mackerras. That was captured in regular red book stereo; but the sound stage is similar, as are the attentive and involved readings of all nine symphonies.

Tempos are mainstream through all three piano concertos. The song and the intellect of the musical line is ever present; yet the ready, deep sense of musical development which communicates real Beethoven is never slighted either. A listener will hardly avoid the vivid impression that everybody involved had a tremendous time doing these three iconic piano concertos from one of our greatest western classical composers.

We have no shortage of well-played piano concertos. I've recently praised Irish pianist John O'Conor in his recently published complete set on Telarc, as well as the complete set emerging as released from Nadia Boulanger's protege, Idil Biret. Any number of other reading could be quickly added to the list.

And as it happens, add this set, too.

Some of my favorite single readings are not necessarily displaced by these. I continue to value Pollini and Karl Bohm in the third concerto. I really cherish Ivan Moravec with Turnovsky in the fourth. Serkin with Bernstein in the fifth. As I recall some comments, a few listeners may find these under characterized, as the reviewer's phrase goes. Strictly speaking, that's true. For all his gifts, Pizarro plays it pretty straight, as written. The old set that really comes to mind here is one with Charles Rosen doing piano and Wyn Morris leading the Symphonica of London. I haven't seen those discs around for quite a long time; but this emerging set reminds me of Rosen and Morris - just the full-tilt joys of playing right through, no fancy business. Just oodles of musicality. None of all my long appreciation for other readings I've heard keeps this set from winning my allegiance.

Could anybody who really likes the Beethoven piano concertos ignore such a fine combination of performance and sound? Recommended, all wide awake. Five stars.
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Location: Berkeley, CA USA

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