BEETHOVEN Symphony No 1. Piano Concerto No 1 (Argerich)
Seiji Ozawa is 82 and Martha Argerich is 76, yet they go at Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto like a pair of teenagers. All of Argerich’s playful, exploratory tics are there – tugging at tempos, sudden accents, accentuating inner lines and so on, and Ozawa’s (judging from the booklet picture) tiny hand-picked Mito Chamber Orchestra are with her all the way. They pack a punch way beyond expectations, given the size of the forces, and Ozawa is not shy of the odd period touch, hard timp sticks being the most obvious example. The finale is as bubbly and cheeky as you’re ever likely to hear it and provokes a huge ovation from the Japanese audience. It’s an Op 15 to live with.
The First Symphony might almost seem to be the B feature in such company but it’s no such thing. Looking back at Beethoven from the wrong end of the telescope, as it were, you almost get the sense of its being the first step on the mammoth symphonic journey to follow over the next twenty-odd years, as Beethoven kicks of the 19th century with that famous subversion of C major. Ozawa isn’t particularly a speed merchant but everything seems to fall perfectly into place and the streamlined dynamism of the band allows for all manner of detail to be spotlit and shaped. The Mito players naturally aren’t the polished machine of certain Beethoven performances but the raw edge to the string sound is far from unwelcome and the woodwind all sound gorgeous.
Argerich remains indefatigable and, on this evidence, Ozawa may be entering a glorious Indian summer of creativity. A second instalment, already in Decca’s vaults, can’t arrive soon enough.