Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 "Emperor" (CD review)

Also, Symphony No. 7. Rudolf Firkusny, piano; William Steinberg, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. EMI CDM 7243-66888-2-7.

Some of the best releases from the major classical record labels have been old reissues. And why not? Classics have endured the test of time. Many of them have become old friends, and it's nice to see them freshened up and repackaged.

For example, the disc on hand: Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto in the hands of Czech-born American pianist Rudolf Firkusny (1912-1994) fairly crackles with energy. Firkusny avoids excesses, indulging in little of the bravura we hear from Vladimir Ashkenazy (London), the nuance of Stephen Kovacevich (Philips), or the lyrical poetry of Wilhelm Kempff (DG), yet offering a performance of great strength and precision. Above all, it is Firkusny's crispness of attack that sets the interpretation apart. He appears to know exactly what he wants, and he gets it done with the least amount of fuss or bother. What's more, conductor William Steinberg obviously understands this approach and matches it perfectly with his Pittsburgh Symphony accompaniment.

Rudolf Fiskusny
The companion piece, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, is likewise full of crisp energy. It dances along in the first movement and then proceeds most naturally to the gravity of the Allegretto. The Presto has requisite zip, and the Finale soars in a more than matter-of-fact way. Steinberg's reading hasn't perhaps the energy of a Fritz Reiner (RCA/JVC), the  lyricism of a Colin Davis (EMI), or the directness of a Carlos Kleiber (DG), but it carries a good tune.

EMI digitally remastered both pieces from original session tapes made in March and October of 1957 in what EMI called at the time FDS, "Full Dimensional Sound." Although the sound is strong on midrange, it's not particularly weighty in bass. Highs are not terribly smooth or extended, either, but, like the rest of the sonic image, they are clear and well defined. The piano sound is especially noteworthy for its clarity and articulation. There is some inevitable tape hiss noticeable in the quietest passages that should not be a concern except to those who place digital silence above everything else.

The disc makes an easy recommendation for its performances, with only minor hesitations about the decades-old remastered sonics. 

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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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 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.

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