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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Some Rough Beethoven

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Six Bagatelles, Op. 126 [20:19]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in C, Op. 15 [37:49]

Piotr Anderszewski, (piano and conductor)
Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen

Recorded 5-9 October 2007 in the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Concert Hall, Bremen.

VIRGIN 50999 5 02111 2 [58:37]

Having thoroughly enjoyed Piotr Anderszewski’s recent recording of three of Bach’s solo keyboard partitas, (Virgin 5455262) I looked rather anxiously forward to hearing his interpretation of this, my favorite of Beethoven’s piano concertos. Alas, I was roundly disappointed.

Let’s begin with the six little bagelles, Op. 126. There is no doubt that Mr. Anderszsewski is a talented pianist. He has technique to burn, and is most often very musical. Yet, in these little pieces, his youthful exuberance gives way to some pretty bad taste. The elegance of the classical period is lost on this pianist as he thunders away in the loud passages in what seems to be a misguided homage to Beethoven’s notorious string breaking. One must remember that Beethoven didn’t have a big Steinway that could withstand the force of a jackhammer, let alone a pianist with great physical power. When he tones it down in soft passages, his sound is quite charming indeed, but the abrupt and overly robust outbursts of forte are a rather jarring distraction.

The same ills plague the performance of the concerto. Mr. Anderszewski tends to pound the keyboard in loud passages, particularly at the end of the first movement cadenza. As a conductor, he fails to adequately shape phrases, rushing through moments that are in need of a bit of repose. Most maddening is the absolutely obnoxious tympanist, who, using what to these ears are his hardest mallets, pounds away every time he is required to play, sticking out above the orchestra in a way that is most unmusical. Beethoven might have been deaf, but the rest of us do not need to be beaten about the head and shoulders.

I had a bit of hope for the second movement, which shows Beethoven at his lyrical best, but was here too disappointed. It was almost as if the musicians regarded this work, which is not as technically challenging for skilled players as others, as a blow-off, and merely phoned it in. For reactions to the rondo, see the preceding paragraph.

With the plethora of fine recordings of this music available, the market has little room for new performances that are anything less than stellar. This performance has been tried and found wanting.

Kevin Sutton

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