These performances seem to have generated a lot of controversy, so let me say a few things that are not controversial about them: 1) the recorded sound is absolutely first-rate, with impeccable balaces between piano and orchestra. The amount of wind detail is paricularly remarkable. 2) the orchestral work is superb. I've never heard of Christian Gansch before, but he leads wonderfully lithe performances. The orchestral expositions are all memorable. 3) Pletnev uses the usual cadenzas, except in the first concerto, where he plays Beethoven's second cadenza. It's much shorter than the one we usually hear and, to my mind, more effective given the proportions of the movement. 4) the piano, a Bluthner imported for the occasion, is one of the most beautiful, flexible, versatile instruments I've ever heard. 5) simply as piano playing Pletnev's work is beyond compare.
That leaves Pletnev's quirky interpretations. I think enough has been said about the playing for you to form an impression. Like Horowitz, it's not a matter of good or bad. He just does what he does. You might say his playing is similar to the way many people describe the local weather: if you don't like it, just wait and it'll change in a few minutes (or, in this case, seconds). I found it enthralling in four of the concertos. The exception was the Fourth Concerto, particularly the first movement, where Pletnev's constant tempo changes and bizarre treatment of the chords that open the recapitulation (not to mention his daffy handling of the opening statement) made no sense to me. Elsewhere, though, I was on the edge of my seat, constantly delighted with the detail he found in the score. He is also marvellously attentive to what is going on in the orchestra (listen, for example, to the way he works with the bassoon and flute in their dialogue in the slow movement of the Third).
I could't recommend this set as a "standard" edition (for that you're still best off with Fleisher/Szell). This set, however, is a necessary altenate. Buy it while you can.
Spacious sparkling recordings, that for all their appeal to the intellect and sheer wow factor, somehow feel not quite authentically alive. The word "self-aggrandizing" comes to mind; to my ear, these performances come off less as great Beethoven than as a fabulously thrilling Mikhail Pletnev event. Pletnev plays like the devil, no doubt, splendid tone and touch, the works. But so does Serkin. So do Kovacevich, Pollini, Richter. When has pianism, if that's the word for dazzling technical prowess, ever been the last word in music-making? If virtuosity were all, Salvador Dali would be the greatest 20th c. painter. Not unlike Dali, Pletnev's outsized personality impresses almost too much; the stop-and-go embellishments, the cliff-hanging pauses, the soloist's immense gifts always on display. To my ears, it starts to feel a bit precious and calculated. To borrow an epithet from Santa Fe Listener's review of Khachatryan's Bach solo violin, Pletnev's Beethoven concerto cycle is a "full-scale virtuoso assault." Another reviewer, more persuaded than I, uses the word "willful." I can't help but agree, but in service of what?
Pletnev plays these concertos with a spirited romantic approach which makes even the early concertos thrilling, though I think the 4th and 5th are the 'stars' here. Sound quality is excellent for live recordings, and the orchestra follows the soloist heroically. These are my new favorite recordings of the Beethoven concertos, displacing Serkin and Fleisher and Kempf, from so many years ago.
Recommended by James Rhodes, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the set. Great virtuostic interpretation of the concertos, and the 5th is played with enormous scholarly erudition to the score and emotional sensitivity to the andante. Interesting to compare others' such as Brendel, Kempff and Pollini; and Gould!