Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 4 (CD review)

Lang Lang, piano; Christoph Eschenbach, Orchestre de Paris.  DG B0008725-02.

Certainly, Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto is more adventurous and more virtuosic than his First, but I have a fond place in my heart for the First, and next to the Fifth it is my favorite of the composer's five piano concertos.  Having the earlier Concerto from 1795 alongside the later one from 1808 helps establish the contrasts even more, but I admit still to favoring the earlier, more classical one.

Anyway, the Fourth is probably the better vehicle for showing off young Chinese pianist Lang Lang's prodigious abilities at the piano, although I preferred him in the quieter passages of both pieces.  In No. 1, for instance, we get a big, rhythmic opening movement and a playfully tuneful closing movement, with one of the most tranquil, meditative middle movements a listener could imagine; and Lang plays it as refreshingly sweet as one could wish.  Not that the grander outer movements of either concerto are lacking, understand, but they don't quite match the beauty of Lang's playing in the slow sections.

Then, too, DG's sound leaves little to desire.  It's got a good dynamic level, adequate frequency response, and fine orchestral spread, with DG's usual realistic piano tone.  There is perhaps a little something missing in terms of ultimate transparency, but the 2007 sonics probably reflect pretty well the acoustics of the newly remodeled Salle Pleyel, where Eschenbach leads the Orchestre de Paris.  Or maybe I am being overly gracious, so thankful was I to hear a recording that was not made before a live audience.  (If there was a live audience involved, neither the packaging nor the booklet mention it, and there are zero background noises to indicate the presence of anybody but the performers.)

For the person looking for a new digital recording of Nos. 1 and 4, I would have little hesitation recommending Lang Lang's new effort.  However, be aware that for even less money, one can buy the two-disc set of Kovacevich playing Nos. 1-4 with Davis and the LSO on a Philips Duo.  Kovacevich's recordings may be part of a much-older analogue set, but they compare more than favorably with this newer release in every way.


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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.

Mission Statement

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