Gramophone awards shortList 2015
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Beethoven ‘The Beethoven Journey’ Piano Concertos – No 2, Op 19; No 4, Op 58 Mahler Chamber Orchestra / Leif Ove Andsnes pf Sony Classical F 88883 70548-2 (64’ • DDD)
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 nextto-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! Harriet Smith (June 2014) Pf Concs – selected comparisons: Uchida, Bavarian RSO, RCO, K Sanderling (5/96R, 4/98R) (PHIL) 475 6757PB3 Brendel, VPO, Rattle (5/99) (PHIL) 462 781-2PH3 Pf Conc No 4 – selected comparison: Gilels, Philh Orch, Ludwig (3/59R, 4/97) (TEST) SBT1095
Beethoven Piano Concertos – No 3, Op 37; No 4, Op 58 Maria João Pires pf Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Daniel Harding Onyx M ONYX4125 (72’ • DDD)
Even with a neverending stream of Beethoven piano concerto recordings,
few performances come within distance of Pires’s Classical/Romantic perspective. In her own memorable ‘artist’s note’ she speaks of that knife-edge poise between creator and recreator, of what must finally be resolved into a ‘primal simplicity’. And here you sense that she is among those truly great artists who, in Charles Rosen’s words, appear to do so little and end by doing everything.
Not since Myra Hess have I heard a more rapt sense of the Fourth Concerto’s ineffable poetry, whether in the unfaltering poise of her opening, her radiant, dancing Vivace finale or, perhaps most of all, in the Andante’s nodal and expressive centre, where she achieves wonders of eloquence and transparency. Never for a moment does she over-reach herself or force her pace and sonority. Others such as Arrau may speak with a weightier voice but even that great pianist would surely have marvelled at the purity and sheen of Pires’s playing. Few pianists have ever been more true to their own lights and it is hardly surprising that her many performances of this concerto in London and elsewhere have become the stuff of legends. Much the same could be said of her way with the Third Concerto, where she is equally attuned to Beethoven’s ‘C minor of that life’ (EM Forster). Few have achieved a greater translucency in the central Largo or more subtly poetic virtues elsewhere. All this makes it difficult to celebrate the ‘interpretations’ of pianists such as the not always endearing Glenn Gould, Pletnev or Mustonen. Pires’s performances are quite simply of another order. She is well balanced and recorded, and Daniel Harding and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra are more than warm and sympathetic partners. It is my dearest wish that this will become a complete cycle. Bryce Morrison (October 2014)
Britten . MacMillan . Vaughan Williams Britten Suite on English Folk Tunes, ‘A Time There Was’, Op 90a MacMillan Oneb. Oboe Concertoc Vaughan Williams Oboe Concertod Nicholas Daniel cdob/acor anglais/dcond Britten Sinfonia / abcJames MacMillan Harmonia Mundi F Í HMU80 7573 (65’ • DDD/DSD)
The Britten Sinfonia’s latest offering launches with a deeply understanding performance of Vaughan Williams’s Oboe Concerto from Nicholas Daniel. It was with this very work that he first made his mark as winner of the 1980 BBC Young Musician of Year competition and, to judge from the present display, it’s a piece that still means a very great deal to him. Not only do his flawless discipline, liquid tone, exquisite chiaroscuro and seemingly superhuman breath control ravish the ear, he also encourages his colleagues to give of their polished and raptly committed best. Time really does seem to stand still as the evening hush descends towards the end of first movement; and when the pace slows to Lento for the work’s final full flowering at
18 GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2015