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Old School or No School. Not near the best in either concerto.
on 1 June 2017
The piano is over recorded and placed too forward in the balance. On the whole both recordings suffer from a lack of an overall integrated soundstage while the volume levelling is too obvious and in the case of the start of the No 4 robs the movement right from the beginning and progressively thereafter of much atmosphere and poetry (they are mixed for download and in-ear listening I fear) however the general recorded volume level is high - as indicated, a dead give away this is aimed beyond the traditional classical music buying public.
As for the pianism, I am baffled by the effulgent praise this generation of Chinese "prodigies" - in Lang Lang's case he seems to embody the happy clappy marketing concept of enthusiasm x youth squared. There is not a musical phrase or passage on this disc which does not start to jar, sound forced or awkward, betrays a disturbing lack of confidence or uncertainty about classical style. The brilliant and humorous No 1 is earthbound and plodding.
GO TO MICHELANGELI/GUILINI (DG 1987) IN LIVE PERFORMANCES FOR PIANO CONCERTO No 1.
As for No 4, there are a number of great performances, Gilels for example , in the catalogue (and not a few duds, Fellner/Nagano, which this Lang Lang doesn't quite fall into) and though better I thought than No 1 because Lang Lang's broad Romantic exaggerations tend to fit in more closely with the music of No 4 while Eschenbach and his players have more to say. Even so the same sound quality issues, described above, affect this performance too. Here again the performance fails to convince in that ultimately satisfying way: the runs up and down the keyboard and virtuoso flourishes just do not impress or excite.
THE FIRST CHOICE FOR PIANO CONCERTO No 4 IS STILL STEPHEN BISHOP-KOVACEVICH/DAVIS (Philips 1974).
In both cases, the Vienna Symphony for Guilini and BBC Symphony for Colin Davis are better than the French orchestra here which has never shone as a first class or even regional orchestra due to its chequered history. Interestingly, Eschenbach as a Chopin Competition prize winner was taken up by DG in the 1960s and recorded a fairly nondescript Beethoven 1 with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic in 1967 and that and this collaboration with Lang Lang on the piano stool bear interesting similarities in style - or lack of it. I must say I thought Eschenbach was more polished if random soloist than Lang Lang. However, there was no follow up - Karajan recorded the whole cycle with Alexis Weissenberg in 1977 on EMI and THIS is a desirable set of performances with an important C20 pianist.
For further afield reference points Friedrich Wuhrer in No 1 (Vox 1957?) and Josef Panenka (Supraphon 1970) offer fabulous listening and insights. After all, with the great Concerto No 4 and its transitional place in Beethoven's development, a less strident more sensitive interpretation works equally well as I found out in a Festival Hall concert with Dohnanyi//Philharmonia and Andreas Haefliger. Pure magic. But when will they record it?