Leif Ove Andsnes / Mahler Chamber Orchestra

The Beethoven Journey: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4

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The presence of the young Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the decision by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes to conduct it from the keyboard may lead you to expect a smaller-scale performance than listeners actually get here, in this second album of Andsnes' "Beethoven Journey." Certainly this isn't keyboard-pounding Beethoven. The slow movement of the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, has none of the giant-stomping-around quality it often received in golden-age recordings. But neither is the chamber-sized Beethoven. Instead, Andsnes and his young musicians focus on lithe dialogue between piano and orchestra, with grand gestures played down in favor of the threads that run through tutti and solos alike. In the entire Piano Concerto No. 4, where the thematic material is constantly being developed as it is batted between piano and orchestra, the effect is magical; Andsnes and the orchestra achieve a more sensitive balance than has been heard in some years. The Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19, actually Beethoven's first concerto, is a bit less successful although it shares many of the other performance's virtues: the bumptious, syncopated quality of the young Beethoven's music gets lost in this very low-key reading. In general, though, this is a major, original statement in the field of the exhaustively recorded Beethoven concertos.

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