It's Beethoven Year all over again. This time in honor of the 250th birthday of the composer. This is the occasion for jubilant cheers in his German home country. German public radio stations' classical music broadcasts in January focus on the works of the master and his interpreters, including compositional contributions on the theme of Beethoven by students in the music classes of high schools. Everywhere, the impression is diligently created that the whole country knows and celebrates its Bonn showcase composer. And at least most of them have probably perceived the four opening notes Ta-ta-ta-taaa and even attribute them to LvB. Beyond that it will be rather limited and a matter of a minority attending concerts. This certainly also applies to Beethoven's five piano concertos. Nevertheless, one may expect that in the Beethoven Year at least one new recording of all five concerts will be released. This is what happened in the form of the album currently released on the Berlin Philharmonic label with the Japanese pianist Mitsuko Uchido and the former principal conductor of the No. 1 capital city orchestra. Although this recording, which was captured live in February 2010 and is available as 48 kHz, 24-bit download, is not exactly new at the age of 10, but it is welcome at the opening of the Beethoven Year as a documentation of the 2008/2009t artist in residence with the Berlin Philharmonic.
The Berlin Philharmonic and, in the case of this recording, primarily their woodwinds are, as was to be expected, a constant source of joy. One does not experience such unbelievably high-ranking, beautiful orchestral playing everywhere on this planet. Incredibly harmoniously integrated into this orchestral sound magic, the grand piano shines and sparkles under the sensitive hands of the pianist, who always performs technically impressive and extremely clean. Listening to this enormously sensitive piano playing with finely worked out details, delicately dabbed runs and tasteful rubato is a real pleasure. The excellent recording technique ensures an undisturbed enjoyment of the orchestral as well as pianistically polished playing culture.
If one leaves aside the pleasure of the playing technique, the pianist's lack of penetration into Beethoven's music is particularly noticeable in the cadenzas, but also in the dialogue between the piano and orchestra in the slow movement of the G major Concerto, which results in idling instead of emotionally generating tension.
Highly polished interpretations of Beethoven's piano concertos without any noteworthy depth, even if not at such a high technical level as in the case of the Uchida/Rattle recording, have always belonged into the hand luggage of no less and also of prominent pianists, who see in Beethoven a state-bearing figure. Beethoven himself saw himself as anything but a state-bearing figure, namely rather as a rebel. In any case as a composer, who demands full emotional commitment in the performance of his works and the deepest possible penetration into them. Examples of interpretations that take this to heart can be found, for example, in recordings of the concerts with Wilhelm Kempff, Claudio Arrau and the young Leon Fleisher and Emil Gilels, both of whom benefit from the rigorous conducting of a George Szell and the slender precision of his Cleveland Orchestra.
However, if you are looking for tonal opulence and technically outstanding realization in Beethoven, this album of his five piano concertos is just the right thing for you. What is disturbing, regardless of where one places this album in the environment of competing albums, is the fact that on the download there is only a two-second pause between the last movement of each concert and the first movement of each following concert, so that after the final chord you involuntarily stumble directly into the next concert.
Sir Simon Rattle, conductor
Mitsuko Uchida, piano