Beethoven Journey: Piano Concerto No. 5 / Choral Fantasy
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The Beethoven Journey - Piano Concerto No.5 "Emperor" & Choral Fantasy
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Leif Ove Andsnes The Beethoven Journey Continues with Piano Concerto No. 5 Emperor with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Effortless brilliance and scrupulous integrity, affecting naturalness and self-effacing beauty.--The New York Times
Celebrated Norwegian pianist, and 2013 Gramophone Hall of Fame inductee, Leif Ove Andsnes completes his exploration of Beethoven's complete piano concertos with The Beethoven Journey: Piano Concerto No. 5 Emperor. Like the first two titles in the series, Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 - which won the iTunes Best Instrumental Album of 2012 - and Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4, the new album was recorded with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and directed from the keyboard by the pianist himself.
As with the two previous albums, Piano Concerto No. 5 was recorded live at the Prague Spring Festival earlier this year. The Beethoven Journey: Piano Concerto No. 5 is timed to coincide with Andsnes upcoming all-Beethoven performances in San Francisco in September, Los Angeles in October and New York City in February 2015.
The New York Times has called Leif Ove Andsnes a pianist of magisterial elegance, power and insight. With his commanding technique and searching interpretations, Andsnes has won acclaim worldwide playing in the world's leading concert halls and with the world's leading orchestras. He has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards®, five Gramophone Awards and was recently inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame, prompting the Wall Street Journal to call him one of the most gifted musicians of his generation.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, Emperor
2. Adagio un pocco mosso
3. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo
Choral Fantasy in C Minor, Op. 80
2. Finale. Allegro Allegretto ma non troppo
3. Quasi andante con moto
Upcoming US Appearances:
September 10 to 13, 2014 - San Francisco
October 9 to 12, 2014 - Los Angeles
February 23 & 25, 2015 New York
The Beethoven Journey: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3
The Beethoven Journey: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4
Digital Booklet: The Beethoven Journey - Piano Concerto No.5 "Emperor" & Choral Fantasy
Digital Booklet: The Beethoven Journey - Piano Concerto No.5 "Emperor" & Choral Fantasy
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Top Customer Reviews
IMHO, the first album in this series, with the 1st & 3rd concertos, had a fine sense of pace and pulse, which seemed to go a bit slack too often for comfort in the second album, featuring the 2nd and 4th concertos. It's good to report that Andsnes seems to have "got his groove back" here, though not by resorting to speed-demon tactics or flashy fingerwork, not at all. He has simply notched the pace back more to the manner of the first album of the set. This same sense of pace informs his work in the 'Choral Fantasy' as well.
In the first movement of the 5th concerto (BTW, the liner notes by Jurgen Otten disdain the use of the nickname "Emperor"), Andsnes has a few slight tempo nudges, in the transitions between solos and to and from orchestral tutti, which actually made me smile for a moment. In the finale, he has a few moments of hesitation in some of the phrase transitions that, while not disruptive overall, are noticeable enough to be momentarily distracting. No such worries in the 'Choral Fantasy', where, BTW, the long opening solo is separately banded (track 4) before the orchestra enters at 3:18 into the work (i.e. the start of track 5).
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra, as before, provides crisp ensemble work and makes a very fine partner with Andsnes, who is certainly first among equals, but always works with the orchestra as a true partner and not a star soloist. The Prague Philharmonic Choir likewise sing very well in op. 80. That actually leads to the one debit in the presentation, namely that while the booklet includes a fine essay by Jurgen Otten, somehow the text of the 'Choral Fantasy' went missing. (Or at least my copy of the album is missing the text, as well as having just the English language version of Otten's essay, in contrast to the versions in 3 languages in the other albums.) One can, of course, look up the text on Wikipedia or Google it, but that shouldn't be necessary.
That blip aside, fans of Andsnes should be well satisfied with this conclusion to his Beethoven concerto cycle. Plus, this cycle has the distinction of being one of the relatively few complete Beethoven piano concerto cycles where the pianist has directed from the keyboard.
After surveying the first four of Beethoven's piano concertos in previous recordings, Andsnes now crowns The Beethoven Journey as he calls it with Beethoven's crowning jewel, the "Emperor" Concerto. As you no doubt know, Beethoven wrote his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat, Op. 73, "Emperor," in 1809, premiering it in 1811 and dedicating it to the Archduke Rudolf, his patron and student at the time. It would go on to become one of his most-popular pieces of music. However, Beethoven did not give the work its "Emperor" nickname. The fact is, he probably wouldn't have liked it, given his disillusionment with the Emperor in question, Napoleon. Most likely Beethoven's publisher gave the piece the "Emperor" appellation, or maybe it was that Beethoven first presented the music in Vienna at a celebration of the Austrian Emperor's birthday. Who knows.
The piece begins with a big, bravura opening Allegro, the piano entering immediately. One of the first things you may notice from the outset is that Andsnes's performance does not exactly seem "big" compared to many other recordings. I attribute this to the fact that the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which plays wonderfully under Andsnes's guidance, by the way, is smaller than a full orchestra. Thus, the sound is a bit thinner than it might be with twice as many players. In any case, it doesn't affect the performance much except to make it a touch more transparent than most. The main thing is that Andsnes plays the piece with elegance and refinement; he doesn't just bang away at the keys.
Still, while Andsnes may be uncommonly nuanced, he communicates Beethoven's patriotic fervor and heroic aspirations as well as anyone, and there is even a little excitement in the performance. Indeed, many listeners will welcome Andsnes's thoughtful approach to the score.
This thoughtfulness extends especially to the Adagio, which under Andsnes's guidance is as lovely as any you'll hear. Yet Andsnes does not pursue any slow or dreamy tempos, so there is no hint of slackness about the performance. It's quite nice, actually, and it transitions effortlessly into the finale with an uncommon smoothness. Once into the finale, some listeners will perhaps want a more-thrilling close, but Andsnes follows up with a more-intellectual approach, neatly coinciding with the rest of his reading. Obviously, this is not a recording for everyone, nor would I want it as the only one on my shelf; but it makes another fine alternative choice.
The coupling on the disc is Beethoven's Choral Fantasy in C Minor, Op. 80, written in 1808, a year earlier than the "Emperor" Concerto despite its opus number. The composer wrote the piece specifically to conclude a concert that also included the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and a part of the C Major Mass. He wanted a big finale for the concert, and he got one. Later, Beethoven would use a similar approach (and similar music) in the finale to his Ninth Symphony, though on an even nobler scale. Anyway, like his interpretation of the piano concerto, Andsnes's rendition of the Choral Fantasy is not one to bowl over a person with its thrills, yet it does offer a measured beauty. As always, Andsnes's playing is precise and controlled, with admirable flexibility and virtuosity, while never allowing his skills to overshadow the music, the music always foremost. Additionally, the small chorus employed sounds crisp in their articulation and offers a hint of bigger and even better things to come for Beethoven in the Ninth Symphony.
As I mentioned before, the slightly smaller size of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (about forty-five musicians) provides for a touch more transparency than you might hear from a full-sized orchestra. Yet there is also a warmth about the sound and a small degree of hall resonance that softens any hint of brightness or edge. The piano sounds well centered and well integrated into the proceedings, not too far out in front or too recessed. Moreover, the piano comes across warmly enough without sounding hard. It was clearly the intent of the Sony engineering team to capture a realistic concert-hall sound, and I have to admit that while it displays some small lack of sparkle, it has a very natural quality about it. Frequency extremes, dynamic range, and transient impact are all more than adequate as well.
John J. Puccio
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