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Beethoven: Five Piano Concertos / Pierce, Slovak State Po


Release Date: 10/24/2006 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1200   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Joshua Pierce
Conductor:  Joshua Pierce
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos: Nos. 1–5; in E?, WoO 4. Romance Cantabile. Rondo in B? Joshua Pierce (pn); Bystrìk Režucha, cond; Slovak St PO MSR 1200 (3 CDs: 208:57)


Joshua Pierce is an excellent pianist, but not a well-known one. So he’s figured out a good way to draw attention to his Beethoven concerto cycle, recorded in the late 1990s and now released for the first time: included on the first disc (the works are laid Read more out chronologically) not only the rejected original Rondo for the op. 19 concerto, but also some interesting Beethoven juvenilia, principally a nearly half-hour Concerto in E? from Beethoven’s teens, when the budding composer was shopping himself around as a prodigy pianist. These are not first recordings by any means; for instance, there’s an old Clifford Curzon performance of the early concerto buried in the recently issued Volume 4 of Decca’s Curzon series. As for the main matter, alternatives abound, with Fleisher/Szell being my personal favorite, and the unpredictable Aimard/Harnoncourt and the lean and swift Bronfman/Zinman standing out among more recent releases. Pierce has a few things in common with Fleisher in the canonical concertos: a lightness of touch that doesn’t preclude a sonorous tone and a flexible, even playful approach to phrasing that never pulls the line out of shape.


This is evident right from the start, in the juvenile concerto. Truth be told, it’s not a strong work; as a young composer, Beethoven was no Mendelssohn, and most of this concerto is decidedly foursquare. Beethoven’s point, especially in the first movement, is not thematic distinction, but demonstrating what a distinctive young pianist could do with the themes. The kid is obviously impatient to show off; even the solo part in the slow movement is restless. Pierce does everything he can for this music without overselling it; his passagework is exceptionally clean, and he employs a Mozartean touch, always elegant, and not overbearing in the chordal sequences.


The Romance Cantabile is a snippet of what might have become an interesting sinfonia concertante for piano, flute, and bassoon, but at four minutes it hardly lasts long enough to make an impression. The freestanding Rondo is, stylistically, more the Beethoven we know, and Pierce certainly holds his own against the likes of Aimard, Brendel, and Richter.


As for the standard concertos, Pierce’s work is so consistent that a few generalizations and a couple of isolate examples should suffice. He and conductor Režucha maintain tempos at a good clip (with one exception cited in a moment), but they don’t rush the music. By the Second Concerto (on disc 1, as it was written before the First), Pierce is developing some Beethovenian heft when called for, particularly in the first-movement cadenza. If the tempo of that concerto’s third movement initially sounds a bit cautious, Pierce bounces the rhythm nicely and keeps the articulation clear. Through the remainder of the cycle, Pierce plays with energy, substance, and fullness, without feeling that, because this is Beethoven, he must hammer the klavier (a fate that often befalls the “Emperor”).


The Slovak State Philharmonic pulls through professionally, with the conductor insisting on crisp playing in terms of tempo and articulation, but no section of the orchestra could honestly be called ripe toned, and the group’s overall contribution is uneven. I suspect Režucha could have done much more with a world-class orchestra. This one doesn’t benefit from the close and boxy recorded sound in the obscurities, although the sonics open up in the better-known works, and at any rate the tone of Pierce’s Bösendorfer never suffers.


Eric Salzman contributes smart liner notes, which further demonstrates that this set is a serious effort, not a mere vanity project for Pierce. Because the orchestral contribution (as distinguished from the conducting) is uneven, this can’t quite be a first choice among Beethoven cycles, but if you’re curious about the rarities, Pierce makes a fine case for them, and his performances of the Big Five stand high among other recent efforts.




FANFARE: James Reel
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Works on This Recording

1. Concerto for Piano no 1 in C major, Op. 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Joshua Pierce
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1795; Vienna, Austria 
2. Concerto for Piano no 2 in B flat major, Op. 19 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Joshua Pierce
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793/1798; Vienna, Austria 
3. Concerto for Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Joshua Pierce
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
4. Concerto for Piano no 4 in G major, Op. 58 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Joshua Pierce
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
5. Concerto for Piano no 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 "Emperor" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Joshua Pierce (Piano)
Conductor:  Joshua Pierce
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809; Vienna, Austria 

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