John O'Conor, piano; Andreas Delfs, London Symphony Orchestra. Telarc 2CD-80704 (2-disc set).
Irish pianist John O'Conor is a most poetic instrumental interpreter. Here, his Beethoven is best in the slower movements, where his lyricism has the upper hand, but he invests the outer movements with plenty of gusto as well. It's just that even when he's letting loose, he's still singularly rhapsodic, gently caressing each note and coaxing a freshly idyllic feeling from the most oft-heard passages.
In other words, O'Conor produces some lovely Beethoven. This is most evident in the First Concerto, with its lively, joyous tunes, and in its extreme opposite, the Fourth Concerto, with its dark, somber, sometimes solemnly introspective undertones. Obviously, O'Conor is in command of both worlds and both moods. Quite lovely, really.
Unlike O'Conor's playing, though, which has an immediately gratifying effect, Telarc's sound has to grow on you. It hasn't quite the warmth I expected in the mid bass, and it seems a little hard and forward in the upper midrange, producing a feeling of leanness that might not be fair. It's not really lean, nor does it lack warmth. They are simply first impressions. I also thought there was a little too much orchestral depth behind the piano, which was quite surprising since usually I find too little in most recordings, but that feeling quickly disappeared, too, as I got more into the music and the performances.
While maybe this isn't the most transparent sound I've ever heard, it is natural enough to enhance one's enjoyment of the music well enough, making these performances from John O'Conor and the LSO serious contenders for one's Beethoven bucks. O'Conor is not brawny or clever or grand or coy, but I guarantee you'll be swept away by his music making.
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.
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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