Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 (CD review)

Also, Piano Sonata Op. 101. Robert Casadesus, piano; Hans Rosbaud, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam. Newton Classics 8802050.

This recording from French pianist Robert Casadesus, conductor Hans Rosbaud, and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, was among the first LP's I remember owning of the "Emperor" Concerto, so it's good to find it back in the catalogue in a 2011 CD reissue from Newton Classics. Although it was Philips who recorded it in the early Sixties, I seem to remember owning it on the Odyssey label, perhaps the later budget-priced American version I bought in the late Sixties when I first came to it. As I put this rerelease in the player, I wondered if it would live up to my expectations or live down to my nostalgic memory. It turns out to be perhaps a little of both.

Beethoven wrote the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat, Op. 73, in 1809, premiering it in 1811 and dedicating it to the Archduke Rudolf, a student and patron of his at the time. It would be the composer's final piano concerto, and it would go on to become one of the man's most-popular pieces of music.

The Casadesus performance is one of lucid textures and sharply defined contrasts. With any rendition, the opening Allegro must be bold and imposing, with its long, grand introduction, and it is here, with Rosbaud adopting a quick but never breathless pace, and Casadesus providing a remarkably gentle yet entirely heroic solo contribution. Each nuance seems calculated to maximum effect without distorting the general outlines of the work, from the quietest to the most-blazing passages.

In the Adagio, Casadesus appears purely focused on refusing to sentimentalize the lovely central theme. Nevertheless, he doesn't do it any great injustice by taking a brisker, should I say more daring, clip than most other pianists. I must confess, however, that I rather prefer a more-romanticized approach; maybe it's my age showing.

The performers then tackle the finale in arresting style, with Casadesus taking the lead in his usual poetically objective manner. Even so, the performers don't provide quite the power of other productions, preferring instead to concentrate on clearly shaping and defining the music. As a result, we get a more coolly analytical Fifth Concerto than most others but one that offers its own subtle rewards.

Sharing the disc is the little Piano Sonata No. 28 in A, Op. 101, which Beethoven composed in 1817. Casadesus again approaches the piece in a fairly pragmatic way, bringing the music to life in the Vivace alla marcia but in the rest of the piece content to let the notes take care of themselves.

Philips recorded the Concerto in 1961, capturing a somewhat thinner string tone, slightly less-ambient bloom, less bass, and less stage depth than they would in later Concertgebouw productions; otherwise, the sound is quite clear and dynamic. There is a beautifully realized piano sound, the instrument well integrated with the rest of the orchestra. The miking also seems a tad closer than common for a Concertgebouw recording, making the upper frequencies a tad bright. Be that as it may, the piano sounds just right, very warm and realistic. Fortunately, the disc's advantages overshadow its deficiencies, which are minor, the upshot being a transparent and becoming recording.

Casadesus recorded the accompanying Sonata a few years later, in 1964, during a live concert, evident from the sometimes intrusive audience noise. Setting aside the distractions, the piano again sounds beautiful.


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Meet the Staff

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 more than 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, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
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.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa