Saturday, April 25, 2020

Beethoven 250: the piano concertos (András Schiff, 1996)

"In writing, later, of this meeting, Liszt said, "I played the first movement of the Concerto in C major [Piano Concerto No. 1 in C]; and, when I had finished, Beethoven grasped me with both hands, kissed me on the forehead very softly and said, "Go, thou art blessed; because you will bring joy and blessings to many others. There is nothing finer or more beautiful in all the world." The drawing is by Rudolf Lipus (1893–1961). Source:". From: Wikipedia.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven. Performers: various artists including: Artemis Quartet, Daniel Barenboim, Rudolf Buchbinder, Renaud Capuçon, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Otto Klemperer, Stephen Kovacevich, Yo-Yo Ma, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Jacqueline du Pré, András Schiff, János Starker, Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
    "Jubiläums-Edition zum 250. Geburtstag im Deluxe-Packaging mit umfangreichem Begleitmaterial."
    "Doing full justice to Beethoven’s awe-inspiring, but profoundly humane genius, this is Warner Classics’ first-ever complete edition of his works. It draws discerningly on the riches of the label’s catalogue, assuring integrity by assigning entire cycles to the same artist, ensemble or team of performers. Classics from the age of the LP are complemented by the best of the CD era and by a wealth of new recordings of rarely heard works that are ripe for discovery. This is a comprehensive and deeply satisfying tribute to Beethoven, a transformative force who has enhanced the lives of music-lovers for more than two centuries.".
    Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited.
    Compilation producer and editorial: Ray Granlund.
    Editorial assistant: Xenia Evans.
    Mastering: Isabelle Davy - Circé Studios, Paris.
    Graphic design: WLP, Ltd.
    An emphasis on complete cycles by a specific artist, ensemble or team of musicians. A particular feature of the box is continuity of the interpreter(s) throughout an entire cycle of works in the same musical genre / related genres.
    Some 300 tracks specially recorded for the box. These specially recorded tracks mostly comprise rarely heard works that are waiting to be discovered by a broader body of listeners. In the main these are piano works, choral works and songs.
    Booklet note by David Wyn Jones.
    The CD covers carry evocative paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Josef Anton Koch and other German and Austrian artists of Beethoven’s time.
    Also available on Spotify etc.
    I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

Opus 15: Klavierkonzert Nr. 1 in C-Dur (1795)
Opus 19: Klavierkonzert Nr. 2 in B-Dur (1795)
Opus 37: Klavierkonzert Nr. 3 in c-Moll (1803)
Opus 58: Klavierkonzert Nr. 4 in G-Dur (1807)
Opus 73: Klavierkonzert Nr. 5 in Es-Dur (1809)

    András Schiff, piano
    Staatskapelle Dresden / Bernard Haitink, 1996

Opus 61a: Klavierkonzert in D-Dur (Arrangement des Violinkonzerts op. 61) (1808)

    François-René Duchâble, piano
    Piotr Kostrzewa, timpani
    Sinfonia Varsovia / Yehudi Menuhin, 1999

CD 9/80:
Opus 56: Tripelkonzert in C-Dur (1805)

    Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Daniel Barenboim (piano). Berliner Philharmoniker / Daniel Barenboim, 1995
WoO 4: Klavierkonzert in Es-Dur (1784) orchestral score reconstructed by Ronald Brautigam.
    Ronald Brautigam (piano). Norrköping Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Parrott, 2008
Opus 80: Fantasie für Klavier, Chor und Orchester in c-Moll (1808) "Chorfantasie"
    Luba Orgonasova, Maria Heid, sopranos * Elisabeth von Magnus, alto * Deon van der Walt, Robert Fontane, tenors * Florian Boesch, Ricardo Luna, baritones * Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano * Arnold Schoenberg Chor, chorus master: Erwin Ortner
    Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 2003

WoO = Werk ohne Opusnummer.

AA: After the symphonies, Warner Classics's Beethoven: The Complete Works box set continues with the five piano concertos. It is a parallel experience: Beethoven starts as a brilliant master for the aristocracy and soon embarks on an unheard-of inner journey, a devastating spiritual pilgrimage, a space odyssey that knows no boundaries. It is a saga of liberation. From a servant of the court he grows into "the hero of his own life" and a great model for all composers who follow.

The selection of this 1996 recording by András Schiff is interesting and in a way similar to the decision to start the box set with the 1991 recording by Nikolaus Harnoncourt of the symphonies. This interpretation is like a masterclass, a transparent and analytical study. It brings to mind the early decades of digital cinematography where the emphasis was on clarity and brightness.

I am not a music connoisseur, but I have on my shelf the 1984–1987 Claudio Arrau recordings of the piano concertos, and they sound very different. There is an assured and confident legato approach all through the concertos. The strength is convincing, but there is also a subtle magical timbre, like a tender lover's touch. For Arrau, this is a love story.

In András Schiff's interpretation of the Fifth Piano Concerto there is a change of tack, and suddenly everything runs smoothly, everything connects and builds to tremendous grandeur. Comes the most breathtaking passage in the interpretation of the five piano concertoes: the Adagio. It is extremely restrained and held back, yet in a way that we can sense an imminent thunderstorm. This movement had me in tears.

This brings to mind that the works of Beethoven belong to textbook examples of the sublime. Sublime as an experience of something overwhelming, transcendent, evoking Kant about the fate of human reason to ask questions that transcend its own limits. At its most refined, the sublime is evoked in a dormant, latent state, via negation, absence, silence and stillness, and that is what happens in the Adagio of the Fifth Piano Concerto.

It's about the sleeping tiger, the calm before the storm.

A bonus to the five official piano concertos is the opus 61a piano concerto: Beethoven's violin concerto with the piano replacing the violin as the solo instrument. It sounds wonderful and inspiring in the beginning, but after it has finished we understand why it is not being played more.

Following the official piano concertos there is CD 9, beginning with the Triple Concerto with Itzhak Perlman on the violin, Yo-Yo Ma on the cello and Daniel Barenboim on the piano. Glorious and joyous music, not quite among the absolutely highest achievements of Beethoven, but elevated by masters at the top of their game.

The hors série piano concerto in E flat (from 1784!) is heard as a reconstruction by Ronald Brautigam. A delightful performance introducing us to the 14-year-old boy genius Ludwig. It is not a masterpiece but a wonderful display of the young Beethoven's radiant and sunny dimensions. Brautigam's touch is juicy and full-figured.

The last composition on CD 9 is the Choral Fantasy, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the piano, and Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting again the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. It is an exhilarating and passionate performance, already a fascinating stage in Beethoven's development towards the Choral Symphony (the Ninth), with some similar themes and approachs.

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