By John J. Puccio
Beethoven wrote his Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58 between 1805 and 1806 (around the same time he wrote the Fourth Symphony and parts of the Fifth Symphony) premiering it in 1807 with the composer himself as soloist. The opening movement is melodic, with the piano part often sounding improvisatory. Beethoven scored the slow movement for piano and strings, keeping it fairly poetic with a slightly agitated orchestral accompaniment, leading quietly into the finale. Then, we get a passionate, tempestuous, yet gracefully rhythmic third movement. Here, you name it; Beethoven goes for broke.
The fortepiano had its heyday in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, so it’s the instrument that Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven would have written for until the fortepiano evolved into the modern grand piano. The sound of the fortepiano isn’t quite as well-rounded as a modern piano, not as rich, mellow, or resonant. The highs of a fortepiano still sound a little tinkly or ringing, and the lows don’t sound as plush. Nevertheless, Bezuidenhout coaxes some luxurious sounds from it, and the Freiburg ensemble accompany him with an easy precision, Maestro Heras-Casado ensuring that the playing never sounds hectic or rushed.
For companion pieces, Harmonia Mundi fill out the disc with two more Beethoven works, the Coriolan and The Creatures of Prometheus Overtures (1807 and 1801). Again, it’s nice hearing them played by a period-instrument band and sounding probably close to what Beethoven might have heard in his day if he weren’t going deaf. Incidentally, the program opens with the more dramatic Coriolan Overture, which makes a good curtain raiser.
Producer and editor Martin Sauer and engineer Tobias Lehmann, both of Teldex Studio Berlin, recorded the music at the Ensemblehaus Freiburg in December 2017. The piano is well placed, not too far out in front of the orchestra, and the orchestra is well spread out around the soloist. Dynamics are quite good, and detailing is more than adequate. The lower treble/upper midrange can at times seem a trifle forward, especially during moments of loudest expression, but it is not a worrisome issue. In all, the recording is quite realistic and enjoyable.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: