BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
I much enjoyed the first instalment of Beethoven’s piano concertos with this all-Dutch line-up, which boldly began with the Fourth and Fifth (8/15). And there’s no slackening-off of quality in this second volume. The B flat (No 2) can seem in some cycles a bit of a poor relation, but not here: the long opening tutti of the first movement is, in Jan Willem de Vriend’s hands, by turns yearning and punchily energetic, with vibrato used sparingly in the strings. Hannes Minnaar doesn’t by any means underplay the movement’s Mozartian qualities but he also relishes its thoroughly Beethovenian figuration and drive. The slow movement doesn’t hang about, and Minnaar’s range of articulation is engaging; if the lower strings are less characterful than those of the Mahler CO in their upward scales (2'26" of tr 2), that’s a minor detail. They give a quietly ebullient reading of the finale, perhaps too understated for some – but one full of colour and a subtle appreciation of Beethoven’s harmonic swerves.
The very different sound world of the C major Concerto (No 1), with its addition of clarinets, trumpets and timpani, is here emphasised by the orchestra’s use of old brass instruments and a timpanist who, as in the first volume, is clearly enjoying himself. The slow movement is a particular highlight, Minnaar again shading the music with great subtlety, even if the piano’s triplet passage (tr 5, 5'44"), with soloist set against pizzicato strings, is better balanced in Andsnes’s reading with the Mahler CO; and in the section that follows, the Mahler CO’s first clarinet is more impassioned (and more audible over the piano’s trills) than in the new version. The interplay between soloist and orchestra in the closing moments is very sensitively wrought, though. In the finale, Andsnes is a touch more extrovert, more Beethovenian. Minnaar, on the other hand, never loses sight of the music’s Mozartian filigree, and his dialogue with the orchestra is unfailingly alert and lively. Again, his range of touch is highly effective, and there is a pleasing mix of finesse and drive in the concerto’s closing moments.