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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

on 5 December 2012
It's amazing to believe that this CD is the first recording by Leif Ove Andsnes of the music of Beethoven, all the more so that it's a recording of Beethoven piano concerti and not piano sonatas. Here, Andsnes is both piano soloist, of course, as well as conductor of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, who prove to be very willing partners in the music-making. What is perhaps most immediately striking is the absence of interpretive idiosyncracy, where there are no strange pullings-about of tempo, for example. At the risk of reading too much into the readings, perhaps Andsnes, while clearly leader of the proceedings, feels himself to be first among equals, and wants the readings to be more like chamber music, where all parties listen to each other.

It will be clear from listening to the orchestral timbres that the Mahler Chamber Orchestra has learned from period performance practices, from the relative lack of vibrato in the string sound (though not to the point of total desiccation). Some might find the interpretations a tad "cool" emotionally, although one can argue that there's a fine line between "cool" and "bracing". I generally lean towards "bracing", in the overall straightforwardness of the readings, where Andsnes seems focused on presenting the music and not himself.

Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra recently performed the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, and listening on Radio 3, the overall spirit came off as very similar between the radio relay performance and this CD. Perhaps it shouldn't be your only choice of these concerti, but these are worth hearing, and not just by fans of Andsnes and the orchestra.
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on 5 January 2013
It's been two years now since Leif Ove Andsnes' last CD came out. Formerly contracted with EMI, he's switched over to Sony Classical. This CD is a taste of things to come, as it's not only his first disc with his new label, but it's the first of his Beethoven concerti cycle with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Andsnes is a pianist I saw live twice and have followed with enthusiasm. He's starting his cycle out with the 1st and 3rd concerti. Sony is making the effort seem adventurous by entitling it "The Beethoven Journey".

Oh, and I forgot to mention the conductor, which is Andsnes himself. This isn't his first endeavor of the sort, having put out three CDs of Mozart and Haydn with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. This shouldn't be news, but the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is a few rungs higher on the ladder than its Scandinavian rival. It doesn't take long until this is evident; Andsnes couldn't ask for more sophisticated chamber partners.

But the very fact that Andsnes is choosing a chamber orchestra instead of a regular orchestra and conductor proves that he wants intimacy. This isn't an authentic performance by any means, though. Andsnes has a firm technique that he showcases with authority and his accompanists are full and commanding. It's a very classicist affair; no romantic excesses, please. What, then, is the vision that leads our Beethoven journey?

Simply put, Andsnes wants to present the concertos in their glory without letting himself get in the way, to use a clichéd line of the purists. He favors reticence over flamboyancy, lyricism over excitement. Sensitive sounds abound with the utmost clarity. Sony's sound is what we expect in 2012 and they pick up subtleties everywhere. But as much as Andsnes' laidback refinement appeals to me, I'm not sure he's exposing a personality that turns these concertos into anything revolutionary. I wonder if that's intentional.

Should these concerti be viewed in this light? That's the question I've been struggling to answer. I can't give a concrete answer, but I feel that greatness requires more than beautiful playing and perfect sound. All the same, you can't deny the attraction of Andsnes' approach. There's a certain cold purity that grabs the ears. Everything is crisp, perfect. I'm reminded of Perahia's set with Haitink and the Concertgebouw. Andsnes seems more committed than Perahia, though, and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is more exuberant than the Concertgebouw was for Haitink. And the sound is indescribably better.

I'll pass the question on to you: is authoritative perfection coupled with lyricism what we want in Beethoven? If you answer yes, this CD beckons you and your wallet.
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on 14 March 2014
When you're listening to a recording of a piece of music by composer X and you think, "This is the greatest piece of music that X composed," then you know that something special is going on. That's what struck me about Andsnes's recording of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto -- it is absolutely gripping, and it seemed that Andsnes was alive to every troubled moment of it. It probably helped that I heard it right after the First, and it was impossible to dismiss the different expressive world to which it belonged. In the first movement, elegance and assertion seem to be pitted against one another, while under the radar, so to speak, there are troubled rumblings. And it isn't a matter of the orchestra and piano taking different parts to represent different expressive tendencies. The opposing expressive tendencies -- schizophrenic is maybe too strong a word -- haunt both piano and orchestra and give their times of almost chamber-like interaction a troubling intensity. And the build up to the first movement cadenza is so deftly handled as to make that cadenza the climax of the movement, at the forte chords about two-thirds of the way through that solo. The second movement follows beautifully, with the turbulence that was under the surface of the first movement brought to the fore, and even in the third movement, there are moments of hesitation and dynamic variety that keep the uneasy feeling present to the end. You come away feeling that this is one of Beethoven's great tragic works.

The First concerto is fine too, but it's a much more equable proposition. There's a lot of wit and charm in the outer movements, and Andsnes is fully in touch with these qualities. In the third movement, his color is magical, as he makes the piano sound now woody, now wiry, and now sweet. And in the slow movement, about 5 or so minutes to the end, he darkens the melodic character with some left-hand accentuation that more than keeps sentimentality at bay. So . . . this is a great disc. The orchestra and the piano are in excellent balance, and if the sound isn't quite as pristine as, say, Kissin and Levine in the Second and Fifth Concertos (also on Sony), it is nonetheless very good.
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on 5 January 2013
Can there be yet another version of these much recorded concertos which will make you sit up and take note? The answer is an unequivocal yes for Leif Ove Andsnes, directing these performances from the keyboard. He plays with style and subtlety and the piano sits within the orchestra, always clear but never over dominant. The orchestra is relatively small scale so that every strand is easy to hear and does not disappear into a mush of sound. The sound on the CD is fine and distinctive and amply repays listening on high quality equipment. If you already have a larger scale version such as Paul Lewis and the BBC Orchestra, don't hesitate: they complement each other very well, illuminating so many aspects of these endlessly attractive works.
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on 9 February 2013
I heard this being played on the radio and was instantly attracted to the quality of the playing in the third movement of Piano Concerto No.3. Having now listened to the whole CD I am pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoy all of it. There is one small point - the piano appears to be further back in the balance than I would have expected but it doesn't mar the enjoyment.
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on 30 July 2015
Having heard this disc played on "Classic FM" I was looking forward to owning my own copy as I was very impressed by the quality of playing and the interpretation. However I was disappointed when I played it on my own high quality system, something was wrong! After careful listening I realised that Classic FM use volume compression which seems to correct the problem with this disc. The piano is set too far in the background sounding at too great a distance and the superb chamber orchestra sound swells up to a disproportionate volume so that it no longer sounds chamber like but expands to a full symphony orchestra, not useful when the concentration is on the piano. A further fault is the treble roll off causing a lack of clarity and too heavy a drum. It is all a pity as the instrumentalists are excellent. Hence only three stars.
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on 19 April 2013
Leif Ove Andsnes are currently playing through the Beethoven piano pieces: I heard Andsnes playing Beethoven pianoconcerto 2 and 4 in Gothenburg a few months ago. And it was proubleby the best concert I ever attended. It was sharp, intensive and brilliant. A truly great musician and this CD, Beethoven pianoconcerto 1 and 3 are the same high standard. I give it my highest recommandation.
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on 25 June 2016
I don't know where to start, but this series was the first classical music I have managed to enjoy and the whole series of 5 are fantastic. It has started me buying and listening to a lot of piano music but this still the best! I love it.
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on 8 January 2014
One of my wife's favourite Christmas pressies and she hasn't stopped playing it since. It arrived promptly and in first class condition, thank you.
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on 1 May 2016
Wonderful recording of wonderful music. Quite amazing that a piano can be played in this way.
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