Christian Gansch / Mikhail Pletnev

Beethoven: The Five Piano Concertos

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Mikhail Pletnev's 2009 recordings of Beethoven's complete piano concertos are much better than his 2007 recordings of the composer's complete symphonies for the simple reason that Pletnev isn't conducting here; he's playing the piano. It's not that Pletnev is in general a poor conductor. As his many recordings of the Russian repertoire have demonstrated, he knows how to achieve his goals with an orchestra. Pletnev, though, has no perceptible feeling for or understanding of Beethoven's music. His readings of the German composer's symphonies were so willful and so full of distorted tempos, dynamics, and balances that they disrupted the works' structures, always a fatal mistake in Beethoven. Here, Christian Gansch is conducting the Russian National Orchestra, and while he's not as skilled a conductor as Pletnev, he is far less willful, and the orchestra is held together much more effectively. Although this helps hold Pletnev's performances together, it's not enough to redeem them, since the pianist turns in straightforward, unexciting accounts of these masterpieces. Pletnev reverts to type in the cadenzas: pushing and pulling the tempos, adjusting the dynamics and the rhythms, and generally wreaking havoc on the music. It goes without saying that Pletnev has the virtuoso technique to do anything he wants, but the problem is that he allows his fingers to run away with the music. The results, while better than Pletnev's recordings of the symphonies, are still much less than satisfying. Deutsche Grammophon's digital sound is cool, clear, and deep.

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