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Dip Your Ears: No. 267 (Zimerman’s LvB Piano Concertos, 31 Years Later)

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, PCs 1-5
S.Rattle / LSO
Deutsche Grammophon

Krystian Zimerman returns to the Beethoven Piano Concertos

After 31 years, Krystian Zimerman has recorded the Beethoven Piano Concertos again. „When I was a small boy“, he says in the liner notes, „I remember my feeling that this was an old composer, an old man. Today I am seven years older than he ever was and I [see] him as a younger colleague. Now I can have fun playing this concerto more lightly, with more joy.“ Zimerman’s words promise a new approach, a fresh interpretation – away from the stern, towering Beethoven, towards a freer, more audacious, and perhaps faster performance. On paper, that is true, nominally, for the first concerto’s first movement, where Zimerman, along with his collaborators Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, shave a substantial five minutes off his self-conducted take with the Vienna Philharmonic. But it’s not actually five minutes „faster“: The tempos are only minimally tightened; the timing discrepancy can be explained by Zimerman using the very short early cadenza of Beethoven’s (which is also what Boris Berezovsky plays in his reference cycle on Simax): An apt choice instead of the later, all-too-heavy bravura-cadenza. But other than that, Zimerman’s cycle is surprisingly free from surprises. Influences from the historically informed crowd are, by today’s standards anyway, so nuanced as to be scarcely noticeable. Less, than you would think, anyway, after Zimerman makes it such a point in the liner notes that the action of the piano has been adjusted or switched out entirely to fit each concerto’s demands. Perhaps it can be heard in the bell-like ring and subtly glassy-transparent sound of the first two concertos?

The Andante con moto of the Fourth Concerto, meanwhile, is as baritonal and sonorous as it was three decades ago: creamy gorgeousness reigns. What it isn’t, however, is „con moto“ in any possible sense of the word. No furies of Hades are battling with Orpheus here. The slow(ish) movement, allegedly inspired by the legend of the Maenads, becomes absolute music. If you want absolute contrast: Listen – at your own peril – to what the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra does, accompanied by Kristian Bezuidenhout’s tender fortepiano sounds: It sounds like they are plucking a Late Cretaceous chicken from hell. (It’s really quite fitting, actually.) Simon Rattle, in his third Beethoven Piano Concerto cycle – after one with Brendel in Vienna and a recent one with Mitsuko Uchida in Berlin (my ClassicsToday review here) – accompanies crisply and with routine. The woodwinds sound alive and are nicely balanced against the sometimes garish violins. A good cycle, full of strangely empty promises and perfectly fine playing.

References: Bronfman/Zinman (Arte Nova); Berezovsky/Dausgaard (Simax); Pollini/Abbado (DG); Uchida/Sanderling (Decca); Fleisher/Szell (Sony); Serkin/Kubelik (Orfeo); Levin/Gardiner (Archiv)

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