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.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa