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Orchester Berlin, he transforms aspects of what so many have treated as a sort of Holy Grail (ie loftily reverential) into a beer tankard, the sense of unhinged inebriation gaining most froth in the outer movements’ playful cadenzas, which run wild in the first movement and ratchet up extra excitement for the finale. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more excitable account of that closing Rondo. Here, as Tetzlaff himself says in a fascinating booklet interview, ‘the seriousness or solemnity sometimes surrounding the work is [also] completely suspended’. Of course, viewed as a whole the Concerto still emerges as the mighty edifice that it is, but it’s good to have a dose of typically Beethovenian rough-andtumble thrown in as ballast.

The first movement’s serene central section (played in tempo) allows for a welcome spot of repose and elsewhere Tetzlaff’s sweet, delicately spun tone contrasts with, or should I say complements, Ticciati’s assertive, occasionally bullish accompaniment. The Larghetto is beautifully done, its effect underlined through the sheer energy and character of the outer movements. There’s never any doubt that what you’re listening to is a real concerto, a battle of wills, more in line with Zehetmair and Brüggen (who use Wolfgang Schneiderhan’s cadenza with timpani) or Kremer and Harnoncourt (a cadenza incorporating piano) than with the likes of Perlman, Zukerman or Kennedy. Who knows: maybe this is roughly what Beethoven originally had in mind? It’s possible, even probable. One thing’s for sure: never before has this indelible masterpiece sounded more like a profound precursor of Paganini.

If Beethoven’s Concerto emerges as uncompromisingly provocative, Tetzlaff’s Sibelius also errs on the side of danger. As risk-taking performances go, this one will have you clinging to the sides of your seat. Comparing it with his Virgin recording with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard is especially instructive: in the finale’s opening, the ever-attentive Ticciati follows Sibelius’s wishes by cueing a gradual diminuendo before Tetzlaff enters, whereas Dausgaard carries on pounding at full throttle. Then again, in the passage leading to the second subject (from around 0’44”), under Ticciati Tetzlaff sounds as if he’s clinging on for dear life. Sibelius throws down the gauntlet by requesting a very fast tempo and Tetzlaff rises to the challenge. I shan’t pretend that the effect is entirely comfortable (the Dausgaard option sounds marginally safer) but it’s undeniably exciting. The Concerto’s opening is candidly emotional, with imaginatively deployed varieties of attack (a Tetzlaff speciality) and Ticciati again engaging his soloist with the utmost intensity, lunging fearlessly at Sibelius’s dynamic writing, whether the deafening growl at 7’07” or the movement’s fiercely driven close. As with the Beethoven, Tetzlaff is at his lyrical best in the Adagio. Both performances sidestep interpretative convention without either offending or displacing their finest rivals. In many respects, a real knock-out. Rob Cowan Beethoven – selected comparisons: Kremer, COE, Harnoncourt

(12/93R) (WARN) 2564 63779-2 Zehetmair, Orch of the 18th Century, Brüggen

(4/99R) (DECC) 478 7436DC7 Tetzlaff, Zurich Tonhalle Orch, Zinman

(6/06) (ARTN) 82876 76994-2 Tetzlaff, SWF SO, Baden-Baden, Gielen

(CDA) D CDAG8063 Sibelius – selected comparison: Tetzlaff, Danish Nat SO, Dausgaard

(4/03) (VIRG/ERAT) 545534-2

Chopin Piano Concertos – No 1, Op 11; No 2, Op 21 Benjamin Grosvenor pf Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Elim Chan Decca F 485 0365 (71’ • DDD)

I haven’t been this struck by the orchestral expositions to Chopin’s concertos since Jun Märkl with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for Ingrid Fliter. Now in the company of another Scottish orchestra, the RSNO, Elim Chan makes equally bold decisions about how the music should go. It’s easy to understand why they appointed her Principal Guest Conductor in 2018 after she’d stood in for an indisposed Neeme Järvi the previous year.

In the E minor First Concerto’s opening exposition the mere fact of having a symphony rather than chamber orchestra gives it a natural weight, and into the mix Elim Chan injects not only a passionate urgency but also a bounce to the rhythms. Suddenly you’re aware that this concerto comes out of a Beethovenian tradition, a quality emphasised in the lyrical second theme which here has a straightforwardly Classical underlying pulse, with none of the rubato that can over-romanticise it. The flute melody here is certainly not underpowered but it emerges naturally, and the brass are full of character. It’s all a world away from Zimerman’s dangerously drawnout view of the movement. What’s also abundantly apparent throughout these performances is that the orchestral musicians are galvanised by Chan – not always a given in these concertos. When Benjamin Grosvenor finally makes his first entrance, it proves well worth the wait, and his playing beguiles from the off; as the dynamics sink, his lines are full of poetry but they unfold with utter naturalness. Chan follows his every gesture unerringly – there’s no doubting the musical chemistry at play here. And that brings me to another point: Grosvenor has always balanced his solo career with chamber music-making and it really shows – just sample the way he duets so subtly with the bassoon (track 1, from 10’32”). But he’s not afraid to command the stage either – the upward scales in thirds and sixths (from 11’26”) have a feisty brilliance to them. Even the points that can sound like mere passagework in some performances are lovingly brought alive, Grosvenor constantly recolouring the lines or reweighting the textures with endless imagination.

For the Romanze the strings set the tone with what sounds to be a minimal vibrato, and again the feeling is of glorified chamber music, the piano within the texture rather than dominating it. Grosvenor is a master of the sung line, and the way he deals with Chopin’s phantasmagoric ornamentation has a rare inevitability about it. The link to the finale (track 2, from 7’30”) is particularly breathtaking, with each of the piano’s harmonic shifts sounding bell-like and crystalline; as the orchestra creeps back in, Grosvenor responds with phrases that are coloured with such variety that it’s as if we’re hearing them for the very first time.

The F minor Second Concerto is every bit as outstanding, with Grosvenor and Chan bringing out not only the work’s songfulness but also making us aware of the inner lines and Chopin’s contrapuntal thinking. In the opening movement, listen to the way he seems to have all the time in the world for the ornamentation of the lyrical second theme that was initially presented on woodwind (track 4, from 4’56”). It’s a reminder of the sheer delicacy of his playing, and the movement as a whole has many moments of sheerly luminous playing, its innate wistfulness beautifully brought out.

The heartfelt slow movement (inspired by the young Chopin’s unspoken love for Konstancja Gπadkowska, his classmate at the Warsaw School of Music) is as ravishing as anyone’s, the tempo just right for Grosvenor to spin Chopin’s

16 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2020

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