Mitsuko Uchida / Kurt Sanderling

Beethoven: The 5 Piano Concertos

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When does the incandescent become ephemeral? When does the evanescent become artificial? When do the expertly crafted, the gracefully sculpted, and the radiantly beautiful become simply a matter of style and taste? It is impossible to say for certain. For some listeners, Mitsuko Uchida's recordings of Beethoven's piano concertos with Kurt Sanderling conducting either the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra or the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks will be the epitome of aesthetic pleasure. For others, her performances will be instantly forgettable. Uchida certainly has the clear tone, the strong technique, and the necessary heroic-poetic sensibility to play Beethoven's concertos, and Sanderling surely has the depth, the soul, and the experience to conduct Beethoven's concertos, but they don't seem to touch either each other or the music, much less the eternal in Beethoven's music. The witty humor of the First, the easy elegance of the Second, the powerful drama of the Third, the serene lyricism of the Fourth, and the Apollonian majesty of the Fifth seem missing from their performances together, and, although they are pleasant enough while they're playing, when they're over, they're gone and forgotten. Philips' '90s piano sound is as clear, lucid, and warm as its '60s and '70s piano sound, that is to say, as good as the best ever made.

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