A Beethoven a Day: Hold it quiet, will you?

Welcome to the ninth work within the Slipped Disc/Idagio Beethoven Version

9 Piano concerto quantity four in G main opus 58 (1805-6)
Composed on the excessive midday of the composer’s artistic life, the G-major has essentially the most hushed opening of any concerto, so quiet that the pianist is hardly meant to make a sound. Earlier than this work existed, a concerto would begin with a sprightly orchestral introduction with the soloist becoming a member of in solely when the band ran out of steam. Along with his 4th piano concerto, Beethoven modified the principles. Not solely does the soloist start, when the orchestra is available in, it does so in a unique key, B main. For a couple of moments, it’s as if there was some mistake and soloist and orchestra are enjoying off totally different heets. Within the central motion there’s additional dysfunction, the conductor setting a tempo, which the pianist, after a protracted consideration, ignores in favour of an ultra-slow solo. The entire work hovers on the sting of chaos.

The concerto was first carried out on the palatial dwelling of one in every of Beethoven’s funders in March 1807, along with the premiere of the fourth symphony. Its first public efficiency, on December 22, 1808, was one of many longest concert events on document, encompassing other than the concerto, the premieres of the fifth and sixth symphonies and the Choral Fantasia. In rehearsal, Beethoven had a falling out with a number of the musicians, who messed round in the course of the live performance. The premiere of the G main piano concerto was the composer’s final look as a soloist with orchestra.

Among the many 103 recordings listed on Idagio, I start with Arthur Schnabel, the pioneer of Beethoven on document. Witty, decided and prolific, he pursued a imaginative and prescient of Beethoven that didn’t essentially rely upon hitting all the correct notes. Of Schnabel’s 4 recordings, the one with Malcolm Sargent and the London Philharmonic had the largest gross sales, although my desire is for his 1942 studying with Frederick Inventory and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra the place Schnabel appears to be in a state of transcendence within the sluggish motion, transfixing the deep-backdrop musicians along with his inspiration. Different Germans – Wilhelm Backhaus, Walter Gieseking, Elly Ney, Conrad Hansen, Wilhelm Kempff – sound impossibly literal by comparability. Edwin Fischer, performed by Furtwängler in 1954, has incedible fantasy within the sluggish motion. Friedrich Gulda is unusually restrained.

Van Cliburn by no means actually takes off (Chicago, Fritz Reiner, 1963) and Glenn Gould by no means actually settles down (Bernstein, NY Phil, 1961 and 1969). Artur Rubinstein, who could be as frisky as Schnabel on sizzling coals, takes a measured view of this concerto, evidently a private favorite. Of Rubi’s 4 recordings – with Beecham 1947, Krips 1956, Leinsdorf 1964 and Barenboim 1976 – the final is as a lot a masterclass as a efficiency, with the previous grasp instructing the younger Daniel Barenboim to let the piano lead the baton in tempo and dynamics, simply as Beethoven meant. Barenboim went on to document the concerto twice on the piano, an exhilarating 1968 studying with Otto Klemperer and a extra subdued account, led from the keyboard with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1987.

The Chilean Claudio Arrau recorded this concerto six occasions: few obtain something like his finesse within the finale (Haitink, Concertgebouw, 1964). Of 5 recordings by Emil Gilels, I favor the 1957 take with Leopold Ludwig in London to his 1966 retake with George Szell in Cleveland however that might simply be private style; each are completely poised.

In Britain, a pianist recognized simply as ‘Solomon’ got here on to the 1950s scene because the final phrase in Beethoven – till a stroke lower off his profession in its prime. Solomon Cutner’s G main concerto, with the Philharmonia and André Cluytens, a masterpiece of understatement, is a milestone within the historical past of recording. Alfred Brendel, who recorded the concerto 4 occasions, could be heard at his most unadorned within the 1959 Vienna session with Heinz Wallberg and an orchestra that dares not converse its identify. Many People swear by Rudolf Serkin and Leon Fleisher. Each are charming artists, let down by boxy orchestral sound.

Of the interval instrument recordings that I’ve heard, none is price a second pay attention. Neither is the worldwide ambassador Lang Lang who botches his opening bars (with Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris), coming in too closely and distorting the dialogue. He isn’t alone on this: Van Cliburn, with Fritz Reiner and Chicago, 1963, is equally lop-sided.

So, six remaining selections:
Schnabel 1942, Arrau 1964 and Gilels 1966 are my historic alternatives.
To those, I’d add Vladimir Ashkenazy (Chicago, Solti, 1973) for luxurious sound and serenity; Stephen Kovacevich (BBC, Colin Davis, 1975) for gravity-defying house between notes and Mitsuko Uchida (RCO, Kurt Sanderling, 1996) for immutable focus.
If you happen to’re in a rush, strive the super-quick Lars Vogt (Gateshead, 2017).

This work might produce as broad a spectrum of musical opinon as you’ll find in any musical rating.


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