Vladimir Ashkenazy must rank as one of the greatest pianists of the modern era. His blend of flawless technique and sensitive interpretation marks him out as being uniquely placed to deliver as near to definitive performances as it is possible to get. This set of piano concerti was my introduction to his work, and I remain as impressed now as I was when I first heard them. He is ably supported by a rich and warm sound from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by the incomparable Sir Georg Solti. Ashkenazy was apparently apprehensive about approaching Beethoven and attempting to play him in the West when he emerged from the Soviet Union as a young man in the sixties; he need not have been. His command of the tonal energy and colours of the piano works is unrivalled. I like all these concerti, have heard them often played by various pianists and orchestras, and this set is my favourite. Don't misunderstand me: I have a great admiration for many musicians and they can play individual works by Beethoven and others which I find magnificent. But as far as this group of concerti is concerned, Ashkenazy is very hard to surpass. The version by Murray Perahia and the Royal Concertgebouw under Bernard Haitink is the only one which comes anywhere near. Get them both, if you can; if you have to choose, this is the one I would not be without.
This recording was everything I expected it to be and a little bit more. I am very familiar with all five of Beethoven's Piano Concertos but have not heard them for some years and this cd was a golden opportunity to refresh my memory - it did not disappoint. Amazing clarity of sound and virtuosity from the artist - had Beethoven been able to hear he would have given these renditions the five stars I have.
I must admit to not having been a great Beethoven fan, but recordings like this have certainly won me over to the great man. Plus, I have always liked Vladimir Ashkenazy's piano playing, including his Rachmaninov and Chopin. So when I saw he had recorded all of Beethoven's piano Concertos with Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchesta, I couldn't resist buying this, especially at Amazon's bargain price. Ashkenazy is such a flamboyant pianist and these Beethoven concertos, [particularly the Emperor], are really suited to his style. I have heard Alfred Brendel's version with James Levine and the CSO, recorded in the 1980s, also for Decca, of these concertos, and to me his manner of playing is not flamboyant enough. As I have said, this is not a problem for Ashkenazy, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra give him expert backing in clear Decca sound. A great buy indeed.
There are two sets of the piano concertos worth having, this one and the Klemperer/Barenboim set. This set is all but faultless, BUT, although Solti is never less than accurate he seems somewhere in this mix to have lost some of his passionate engagement with a composer he valued almost above all others. It is strange, but compared to the Barenboim set this feels ever so slightly thin. Nevertheless, it represents a superb rendering of the concerti. My Barenboim set remains on vinyl, and I can never forget its original impact. Perhaps therefore I am expecting too much. But whatever the case I can only advise that a full set of these concerti is essential for any sentient being.
I find this series of concertos somewhat mixed in quality . The later two ( four and five ) are , to my ears at least , somewhat better performances than the earlier ones . I am unsure why , but Ashkenazy's forte , as one would expect , are with the Russian works . His Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky are uniformly excellent , but he doesn't quite seem as adept at Beethoven , lacking some "feel". While not bad , and Solti / CSO are excellent support , there is just something lacking . For a truly outstanding cycle , get the Kovacevich / Colin Davis efforts , now available in a multitude of combinations . They are truly exceptional .