Rudolf Buchbinder / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Beethoven: The Piano Concertos

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Veteran Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder has turned in mid-career to live recordings, believing that the live situation makes possible a greater degree of spontaneity. In solo repertoire this has sometimes led him to follow his impulses into bold, unexpected interpretations. Here, in Beethoven's five piano concertos, there's less of an opportunity to color outside of the lines, even though Buchbinder serves as his own conductor (a tall order in Beethoven in itself). Yet his approach still works very well. He may deserve credit right off the bat for getting the sometimes recalcitrant Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to go along with what he's doing; the performances have a satisfying unity between soloist and orchestra. Buchbinder doesn't do anything earthshaking here, but there's an X factor working in his favor: he seems to penetrate to the emotional essence of each concerto. The first two concertos are taken quickly and restlessly, with the finales highly evocative of the young German who showed up in Vienna and permanently shook up the scene. The Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, captures the whole sweep of the work rather than emphasizing its lyrical aspect unduly. And the mighty Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 ("Emperor"), is as splendid as one could wish, with the slow movement turned into an especially effective night piece to contrast with the big outer movements. This ringing endorsement of the value of live performance in a digital age is well worth considering as a basic Beethoven set, and it comes in an optional DVD version, worth considering as an entrée into still deeper aspects of the live Buchbinder experience.

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