Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” (UltraHD CD)

Rudolf Serkin, piano; Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra. LIM UHD 053.

Telarc originally released this album in 1981, and at the time I remember their sending me an LP of it to review. I’m afraid that for one reason or another, it initially didn’t impress me much. It seemed to me back then that both the performance and the recording needed more weight. That turned out to be an unfortunate judgment because I shortly came to like the LP very much. That’s why I find this remastering by LIM (Lasting Impression Music), an affiliate label of FIM (First Impression Music), so remarkable. After all these years, it seems like an entirely new recording, both sonically and interpretively. Part of my new appreciation stems from LIM’s extravagant Ultra High Definition 32-bit processing, of course, and part of it is that I probably never gave the recording its proper due in the first place. In any event, listening again after all these years, I found it a complete delight.

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat, Op. 73, “Emperor,” in 1809, premiering it in 1811 and dedicating it to the Archduke Rudolf, his patron and student at the time. It would be Beethoven’s final piano concerto, and it would go on to become one of the man’s most-popular pieces of music.

Any rendition must offer a big, bold, imposing opening Allegro, with its long, grand introduction, which Serkin provides, the pianist adopting a moderate, never breathless pace, and Ozawa giving him the chance to create a most-heroic solo contribution. It’s a nuanced performance from Serkin, yet each facet of it works, from the softest passages to the most ardent segments. Beethoven intended the opening movement to be monumental, and Serkin and the orchestra respond to it accordingly. The players perform their duties in exemplary fashion, with no lack of power, passion, grandeur, or insight.

In the central Adagio, we get one of the loveliest melodies Beethoven (or anyone else) ever wrote, a brief duet between piano and orchestra, and Serkin handles it almost as tenderly as anyone. True, Serkin hasn’t quite the poetic bent of Wilhelm Kempff, with Serkin seeming a tad more mechanical and matter-of-fact by comparison. Still, it’s so close, I wouldn’t quibble. 

With Serkin, the hushed transition into the final Rondo: Allegro registers a distinctive character and takes the concerto on to glowing heights, Serkin playing in fine, melodic style driving toward a wonderfully refined yet exuberant conclusion. Serkin may have been up in years when he made this Telarc recording (he was close to eighty at the time), but he doesn’t show it. Of his several recordings of the Fifth Concerto, this one from Telarc is surely his finest, most glowing, most magisterial, most self assured, most exultant rendering of them all.

In terms of ranking the great recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto, one must place Serkin among the very best, alongside Kovacevich, Arrau, Ashkenazy, Kempff, Brendel, Pollini, Fleisher, Gieseking, Horowitz, Curzon, Rubinstein, Gilels, Cliburn, Perahia, and a very few select others. It’s that good. 

The audio, which Telarc recorded digitally in 1981 at Symphony Hall, Boston, and which LIM remastered in 2011 and released in 2012, is big and bold to match the performance. LIM’s 32-bit Ultra High Definition processing results in a beautifully natural piano sound and a dynamic orchestral support, making an almost ideal combination of instrumental sonics. We also hear a touch of ambient hall bloom, helping the piano appear rich and resonant, and there’s good clarity throughout without being in any way bright, hard, or edgy. In short, this LIM product is the best-sounding Beethoven Fifth Piano Concerto I have ever heard, and a brief comparison to over half a dozen other recordings of the piece I had on hand confirmed this impression.

Considering, too, its attractive, high-gloss, hardcover packaging, its twenty-page bound booklet, and its static-proof inner sleeve, the LIM product is something of an audiophile’s dream. Just don’t expect it to come cheap. For a complete listing of FIM/LIM products, you can visit their Web site at


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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 ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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