John O'Conor, piano; Andreas Delfs, London Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80675.
The booklet insert notes that Irish pianist John O'Conor "...has taken on the mantle of his revered professor Wilhelm Kempff and gives the annual Beethoven Interpretation Course in Kempff's own villa in Positano, Italy, where Kempff gave the course from 1957."
Naturally, after listening to O'Conor's performance of the "Emperor" Concerto, I turned immediately to Kempff's classic recording on DG Originals, and I found the two men's approach to the music quite similar. They both grant the work its grand scale, but, more important, they provide it with the poetry it needs in the second movement Adagio and in bits and pieces of the first and third movements to make this work the forerunner of all other big Romantic piano concertos of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. After all, without the "Emperor" of 1809, could we really have expected the concertos of Schumann or Grieg or Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov and so on?
So, O'Conor's reading is expressive yet eloquent, sweeping yet lyrical. You couldn't ask for much more than that. Moreover, the coupling of the Second Concerto is equally well played, and even if I don't personally care much for its first two movements, O'Conor brings out all the delightful playfulness of the concluding Rondo.
Supporting O'Conor's fine performances, maestro Delfs, and the LSO is Telarc's audio quality. I must admit that over the years the company hasn't always produced discs that sounded as good to my ears as I'd like, but this one is excellent. The tonal balance is quite neutral, the transparency is everything it should be, the dynamics are first-class, and the orchestral depth and spread are exemplary. My only quibble is that I would have preferred the piano to be more in the middle of things than it is here, which is slightly to the left of center. Nevertheless, the piano is well integrated into the orchestral picture, making the recording an all-around good contender in this field.
In other words, O'Conor's rendering can compete against the best--Kempff, Kovacevich, Arrau, Ashkenazy, you name them.
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.
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. --John J. Puccio
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