Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Simon Rattle / Lars Vogt

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Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 Review

by James Manheim

Here German pianist Lars Vogt teams with Simon Rattle and his City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in a pairing of Beethoven's first two piano concertos -- one that stands out from the crowd of available recordings in its stylistic decisions. It's a wonderful and unusual recording, but it may also be a matter of taste in some ways. The most distinctive aspect is the strong contrast between the styles of the soloist and the orchestra: Vogt cultivates a light, airy sparkling tone that looks back to Haydn, while Rattle's statements from the orchestra are forceful and spacious. The approach works better in the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15, which is actually the later of the two works; the extended orchestral exposition gives hints of the monumental Beethoven, and then when Vogt enters with his very fluid lines he establishes an interior realm that is very much in keeping with Beethoven's conception of the concerto soloist in general -- not always struggling titanically, but always very much an individual. In the lighter and more Mozartian Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19, Rattle's ambition gets the best of him with some rather odd swelling effects in the romping finale. The original recording came with a second disc on which Vogt's recordings of Glenn Gould's cadenzas for the outer movements of the first concertos were spliced onto the same performances; here only the Beethoven cadenzas are included, even though there was room on the CD for the two cadenzas to be included as separate tracks. The clear if rather chilly sound environment of the Warwick Arts Centre concert hall has held up well in the reissue.

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