Any artist willing to record the five Beethoven piano concertos as a unit is at something of a disadvantage. Unlike the Mozart concerti, which have only been recorded in their entirety by a handful of pianists starting with Géza Anda, the five Beethoven concertos have been recorded by at least a couple of dozen artists going back to Artur Schnabel. With Beethoven: The Five Piano Concertos, featuring versatile New York-based pianist Joshua Pierce, indie MSR Classics is casting its hat into a very crowded ring. Nevertheless, MSR Classics has made this package a little different from the rest through including some of the oddments found in Beethoven's catalog for piano and orchestra. In addition to the big five standard concerti, you will find Willy Hess' edition of the "lost" Concerto in E flat, WoO 4; the Romance Cantabile in E minor for piano, flute, bassoon, and orchestra (also in Hess' realization); and the Rondo in B flat major, WoO 6. All of these pieces are early, and the first two are seldom recorded; a pity really, as WoO 4 does seem sufficiently Beethovenian despite its rough edges and jagged transitions. The Romance Cantabile is likewise a very charming piece and well worth enjoying. MSR decided to stop short at including Beethoven's piano version of the violin concerto.
Joshua Pierce definitely knows his Beethoven and plays all of these concertos and various other movements very well. This recording project has been on the shelf for quite some time; although first released in 2006, the recordings all date from 1997-1998. The sound is quite good, but the major drawback is the band, the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, which is not first-rate. Conductor Bystrik Rezucha conducts with plenty of energy, but the brass is on the loose side and the orchestra seems undisciplined and sloppy, sometimes coming precipitously close to throwing Pierce from his mount. That said, it is not as though MSR Classics is asking for a lot of money in offering this set, and the extras, not to mention Pierce's performance, do set it apart from the rest. So if one is in the market for a set of Beethoven piano concertos, then "Give Pierce a Chance" -- and please pardon the pun.