Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 (CD review)

Mikhail Pletnev, piano; Christian Gansch, Russian National Orchestra.  DG 477 6415.

Nice.  Very, very nice.

Late in 2006 pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev embarked on an ambitious project:  To record all five of Beethoven's piano concertos and all nine of the symphonies over a period of several years.  This recording of the Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 is the first entry in the series.

Pletnev may look like a pretty somber guy from his photographs, but his playing is anything but dismal or gloomy.  In both concertos, the man shows spark and zest in the outer movements, creating excitement and generally happy spirits galore, while displaying great sensitivity in the slow movements, where he is probably even better.  Actually, those outer movements can sometimes seem a tad too fast in places, whereas he takes the Largos at a more conventional pace, yet with much feeling.  The pianist's virtuosity is never in question, and Christian Gansch's conducting of the Russian National Orchestra is always sympathetic.  I would have to place these performances in the top ranks of currently available renditions, right up there with Kovacevich (Philips), Perahia (Sony), Ashkenazy (Decca), Kempff (DG), and other such notables.

DG made the recordings during live performances in September, 2006, and you would hardly know they were live.  Occasionally, during quiet passages, you can hear some minor wheezing or shuffling of feet, and at the conclusion of the program the audience erupts into an unfortunate applause (edited out of the first piece).  Otherwise, the sound is quiet, fairly close, warm, natural, and wide spread, with a realistic piano appearing not too big or too small in relation to the orchestra.  The sonics may not have quite the clarity of a studio recording, but they are comfortable and pleasant.

JJP

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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa