Alfred Brendel / James Levine

Beethoven: The Five Piano Concertos

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Although Alfred Brendel goes on at length about the textural improvements in his liner notes to his cycle of Beethoven's piano concertos with James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the real reason to get this recording is to hear the acoustical improvements in the sound. In the original 1983 edition, Philips' early digital sound was harsh, hard, glassy, glossy, and very ugly. In this 1997 edition, Philips' digital remastering is clean, clear, lucid, pellucid, and very beautiful. But despite Brendel's assertions to the contrary, the textural improvements don't make that much difference. He claims that the opening movement of the Concerto in C minor should be much slower, but it's no slower than any other performance. He claims that the central movement of the Concerto in E flat should be faster, but it's no faster than any other performance. As for the performances themselves, Brendel is often very good -- his G major and the central movement of the E flat major are quite beautiful -- and Levine and the Chicago are often quite mediocre -- their C major and B flat concertos are far too forceful and the outer movements of their Concerto in E flat are far too ugly. Although it is certainly worth it to hear Brendel at his most poetic, it is hardly worth it to hear Levine and the Chicago at its most plebeian.

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