Notes and Editorial Reviews
In 2005 I had the privilege to share a recital program with Jerome Lowenthal and Frederic Rzewski that focused on Beethoven. I played the 32 C minor Variations with an improvised cadenza before the coda; Rzewski played his own Andante Con Moto (a variation set based on the Appassionata sonata’s central movement theme). Then Lowenthal performed a fascinating and diverse group of cadenzas written by various composers for Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto, including one by Rzewski. Lowenthal now has recorded the concerto with Beethoven’s original cadenzas and alternate cadenzas by 10 other composers, placed on separate tracks. This allows one to program any cadenza within the concerto’s context.
Before discussing the cadenzas in
detail, it should be said that the concerto recording from 2007 finds the 75-year-old Lowenthal operating at full capacity. He effortlessly navigates the knotty runs and double notes, while shaping the lyrical writing with natural ebb and flow. His tone particularly opens up in Beethoven’s original first- and third-movement cadenzas with impressive forward impetus and energy. These qualities would have lent themselves well to the rarer alternative first-movement cadenza that Brendel, Gilels, Gieseking, and Moravec favored, and I regret that Lowenthal only offers the more common first cadenza choice familiar from recordings by Schnabel, Arrau, and Fleisher.
Under Carl Topilow’s sympathetic and supportive watch, the unnamed orchestra stands out for its superb first desk soloists and disciplined ensemble attacks in loud tuttis. Lowenthal’s annotations provide informative and entertaining background information about the cadenzas.
Rather than providing a short third-movement cadenza as Beethoven requests, Clara Schumann digs deeply into that movement’s themes and also incorporates material from the earlier movements. Anton Rubinstein’s are big and brash, abounding with elemental bravura and tidal waves of sonority. Relentless trills and booming, Brahmsian octaves characterize Hans van Bülow’s concoctions. The real Brahms, however, offers similarly thick textured yet more restrained and proportioned cadenzas. Some collectors may be familiar with Saint-Saëns’ flashy cadenzas via Arthur Rubinstein’s 1947 recording with Thomas Beecham, and Lowenthal’s performances prove equally exuberant.
Frederic Rzewski’s is the longest cadenza of the group, and one whose harmonic language is at furthest remove from Beethoven’s. Yet there is a slightly Beethovenian sensibility in Rzewski’s use of developing motives and intense contrapuntal bursts. Busoni’s cadenzas typify his restless way with modulations and tend to stay within the middle registers. By contrast, Godowsky embraces the entire keyboard at full throttle–but don’t expect the chromatic twists and turns of his Chopin Etude transcriptions. Dohnányi’s cadenzas are relatively conservative and draw much from Beethoven’s material. Medtner’s two cadenzas may be my personal favorites in their seamless fusion of unabashed Romantic keyboard gestures and skillfully-wrought polyphony. The combination of a fine Beethoven G major concerto and a unique cadenza feast is something no piano maven should miss.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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