BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 4
My reaction when asked to review this disc was a somewhat uncritical ‘hurray’, having immensely enjoyed the first volume of Andsnes’s ‘Beethoven Journey’, a view with which my esteemed editor happily concurred when he made it Recording of the Month (11/12). So does the second volume live up to expectations?
The answer is a resolute yes. The Second Concerto is sometimes a weak link in cycles of these pieces but Andsnes has two great assets: a highly reactive chamber orchestra of the first rank and an acumen as a Mozartian that stands him in good stead, particularly in the ebullient finale, which ends with some of the most unbuttoned playing I’ve ever heard from this pianist. The wind players are, again, a particular delight but they don’t hog the limelight; every orchestral texture has been considered and you can almost hear them listening to one another and to the strings.
It’s in the Fourth Concerto that the strings come into their own, their virtually vibrato-free playing colouring the orchestral response to the piano’s solo opening to striking effect. Andsnes himself is crisper, less veiled than Uchida at the outset, but full of portent for what is to come. Brendel opens with a sigh, Rattle responding with a whisper. The greater clarity of texture of the Mahler CO’s forces is not to imply in any way a lack of gravitas or drama. The contrast between full orchestra, fortissimo, and the most hushed moments in the work is every bit as potent as that achieved by Rattle’s VPO or Sanderling’s Concertgebouw. And such is the clarity of thought that I find myself noticing details I’ve never heard before. Andsnes’s cadenza in the first movement of the Fourth is so full of incident and subtlety, as well as an unobtrusive virtuosity, that it would be possible to devote the whole review to it. Better to hear it for yourself.
Nothing would persuade me to part with Gilels and Ludwig – ever – but Andsnes gives them a real run for their money, especially in the emotional pacing of the slow movement. And here again the next-to-no-vibrato colouring of the strings is very effective. The lolloping pace set for the finale feels just right and the interplay between pianist and orchestra is as sharply focused as you’d expect. Another extraordinary achievement from all concerned, sound engineers included. Hurray indeed!