are colleagues writing in Gramophone who have reviewed many more recordings of Beethoven piano concertos than I but I risk the statement that the excellence of Haitink and the Concertgebouw in these has not been surpassed.
I noticed little deterioration in the quality of sound on the long sides. The recordings, made in the Concertgebouw, reflect the acoustic character of the hall, and the balances suggest the natural perspective of solo piano with orchestra as we might experience it there from a good seat. When you turn to other records you may be struck by how unnaturally imminent the piano often is in relation to the rest. You are likely to be impressed here, I think, by the depth of the perspective, by the clear placing of everything in the picture and by how well the recording team have captured the lightness and translucence of the sound. Above all, Haitink has given the sound variety of weight. The beginning of the C minor’s first movement, for instance, is refreshingly lithe and crisp, with a late 18th- rather than late 19th-century gravitas to it, and it makes you think straight away of the concerto in the same key by Mozart for which Beethoven had such admiration and without which his own might not have been written the way it is. The sound gives you a heightened sense of where the piece comes from and where it belongs in Beethoven’s work. But then equally admirable is the way Haitink characterises Beethoven, through the sound, when he is at his most original: at the beginning of the Fourth Concerto’s slow movement, for example, where the string writing has you by the throat, and again at the moment in the finale of the G major, at the first tutti, where the trumpets and drums enter for the first time, with electrifying effect. When Perahia enters in the C minor first movement you realize just how skilfully the scene has been set and the stage arranged for his performance to make the best effect. I would count this movement and the finale of the G major as two of the finest things he has done on records. The Allegro con brio of the C minor is not at all small-scale, but it has a crystalline elegance of sound – and to that extent a Mozartian quality – which is greatly to my taste, and what Perahia does amounts in my estimation to a brilliant re-creation. The cadenza and the following dialogue with the timpani are high spots. The G major last movement too is irresistible, brought off as a tour de force with vivacity tempered by just the right quantities of delicacy and balletic grace: it is tremendously fast but impeccably articulate. The energy and the transparency are delightful but it is the range of the playing which astonishes. And there are marvels too in the finale of the C minor: but there I found brilliance and elegance a little
18 Murray Perahia too much to the fore, as if this was how Mendelssohn might have played it. The presto at the end doesn’t seem much of a change from what has gone before.
I mentioned the range: the crystalline quality of Perahia’s sound, so characteristic of him, can sometimes appear too unvaried, though in saying this I express only the smallest of reservations. He never asks you to admire his fingers but you can be made aware of hammers and attacks in a way that would not be brought to mind by Kempff (DG), say, or Gilels (HMV). In Pollini’s classic account of the G major Concerto with Böhm (DG) you sense that he is a little more relaxed with it and that all those notes in the
‘ The energ y and the transparency are delightful but it is the range of the playing which astonishes’
first movement sound a mite longer, while being just as precisely played. (Perahia, by the way, plays the first movement exactly as Beethoven wrote it, avoiding, in bar 318 and elsewhere, the high D which was not available on Beethoven’s pianos but which, from analogous passages of figuration earlier on, he would surely have used if he could.) So perhaps Pollini is better at projecting the serenity; I certainly prefer him for his broader, less excitable handling of the ‘storm’ in the first movement’s development. You may agree too that Perahia doesn’t match the rapt, interior quality of Kovacevich (Philips) in the slow movement of the C minor Concerto, who takes a full minute longer over it.
I do miss Brendel in these works – his Philips set of the five Beethovens with the same conductor as Perahia has been deleted. But, for the time being, my enthusiasm for the new record is paramount.
If you have already enjoyed this artist in Beethoven sonatas you will not be specially surprised, I dare say, at his excellence here; and, for me, Haitink and the Concertgebouw have turned the record into a feast. Stephen Plaistow (7/86)
Brahms Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor, Op 25 Murray Perahia pf Members of the Amadeus Quartet (Norbert Brainin vn Peter Schidlof va Martin Lovett vc) Sony Classical (73 discs) 88691 91256-2
So soon after Peter Schidlof’s death and the sad disbandment of the Amadeus Quartet, it is good to be reminded of Schidlof and colleagues in full flight. This is a very different sort of Amadeus record from the ones we have long been accustomed to on DG, though it has points in common with recent issues which have involved live concert performances. These same players recorded this work for DG with Emil Gilels back in 1971, and the contrasts are extraordinary. Next to that earlier account, restrained, steady, plain and classical by Brahmsian standards, the new one is wild and urgent, clearly reflecting the more volatile musical personality of the pianist.
The Amadeus players are carefree too to match their partner, and that means that various details of ensemble are not so immaculate as before. The first big octave statement of the sweeping second subject melody is more passionate and involving than before, but the matching in octaves (notoriously difficult) is far from perfect, what you would expect in a concert performance rather than on record. Where in the old days I used to feel that Amadeus performances on disc were often too carefully polished, not spontaneoussounding, this one brims with energy and immedi acy, and that I welcome. We have been treated lately to more performances and recordings of the Schoenberg arrangement than of Brahms’s original quartet, and it is good to welcome this new version. The recording, made in the helpfully reverberant acoustic of Henry Wood Hall (as the sleeve-picture but not the sleeve-information makes plain), is full and bold to match the performance, though not focused with ideal sharpness. Helped by the close balance, Perahia emerges as a powerful, passionate Brahmsian, not at all the Mozartian translated, with the gipsy rondo finale given tremendous urgency. Edward Green ield (1/87)
Beethoven Piano Concertos – No 1 in C; No 2 in B flat Murray Perahia pf Concertgebouw Orchestra / Bernard Haitink Sony Classical 88697 10290-2
Selected comparison – coupled as above:
Argerich, Philh, Sinopoli LP (9/86) 415 682-1 GH Piano Concerto No. 1—selected CD comparison:
Brendel, Chicago SO, Levine (8/84) (9/85) 412 787-2PH This is the second issue in the cycle of Beethoven concertos Murray Perahia is making with Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra for CBS. If you shared my enthusiasm for their versions of Nos 3 and 4 (10/86 – a 1986 Gramophone gramophone.co.uk