In this 2008 three-CD set, Deutsche Grammophon has re-released Maurizio Pollini and Claudio Abbado's early-'90s recordings of Beethoven's five piano concertos, a set of performances that have been available more or less continually since their first release. But this time they have added a 2006 recording of Claudio Abbado leading the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and three young soloists in Beethoven's Triple Concerto. For fans of either Pollini or Abbado, their smart, stylish, and supremely virtuosic performances with the Berliner Philharmoniker will be thoroughly familiar and probably already occupying a place of honor on their Beethoven shelf.
But that does not mean they will not want to at least audition Abbado's Triple Concerto, his only recording of the piece. Working with pianist Alexander Lonquich, violinist Ilya Gringolts, cellist Mario Brunello, and the Venezuelan youth orchestra, Abbado obtains a sprightly and lyrical account of the concerto that emphasizes its chamber music inclinations over symphonic bombast and its dance-like tendencies over dramatic intensity. The question, however, remains: should those listeners who already have Pollini and Abbado's concertos still pick up this set because of the new Triple Concerto? That is impossible to say: each listener will have to decide. For those who do not already have Pollini and Abbado's concertos, however, the decision is clear: by all means, hear these performances. Deutsche Grammophon's earlier digital sound is bright and clear. Its later digital sound is brighter and clearer, though just a tad more distant.