Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 4

A perfect alliance of heart and head

Author: 
Rob Cowan

Beethoven Piano Concertos Nos 3 & 4

  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4

I can’t recall hearing a more honest or securely focused account of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto in a long while, though the personal (and leisurely) brand of dialogue achieved by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Nikolaus Harnoncourt remains essential listening. Yefim Bronfman follows a faster interpretative route, one previously explored, from various perspectives and at different times, by Rudolf Serkin (in Philadelphia, nla) and Emil Gilels.

The musical line is unswervingly held, especially in the first movement, where runs are cleanly articulated and Bronfman has the inestimable bonus of cannily judged orchestral support under David Zinman. To take just one example, the development section of the first movement (from around 7’50”) where, while the soloist climbs skywards by stages, the strings veer in the opposite direction, landing on prominent bass chords which Zinman projects with unforced emphases.

Bronfman’s approach has a definite classical bias and it’s a viewpoint that’s keenly mirrored by Zinman and his accomplished Tonhalle players. The con moto slow movement opens to a clipped declamation from the strings, humbly answered by the soloist, and the resulting tension set up between disciplined assertion and a warm, unmannered legato – with no recourse to unnecessary tempo fluctuations – is most impressive.

The C minor Third Concerto is another sure-fire winner, right from the opening bars, where Zinman creates precisely the right feeling of animated suspense. Bronfman again excels with taut, contrapuntally revealing pianism and, in the Largo, admirable fluidity (especially when taking an accompanying role beneath the woodwinds, from 3’36”). Both finales combine commanding pianism, often lightly dispatched, with incisive orchestral attack.

These are bold, intelligent readings, cooler than some but none the worse for that, and superbly engineered under the watchful eye of recording producer Chris Hazell. They give you Beethoven shorn of mannerism or affectation, which is fine in my book. Bronfman plays Beethoven’s own cadenzas.

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