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Beethoven: Piano Concerti, Choral Fantasy / Kuerti, Davis, Toronto Symphony


Release Date: 07/29/2008 
Label:  Cbc Sm 5000 Series Catalog #: 5246-3   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Anton Kuerti
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 3 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos: No. 1; No. 2; No. 3; No. 4; No. 5, “Emperor.” Choral Fantasy Andrew Davis, cond; Anton Kuerti (pn); Toronto SO; Toronto Mendelssohn Ch CBC 5246 (3 CDs: 198:35)


"With no shortage of excellent sets of Beethoven’s piano concertos readily available, I was poised to voice that oft-repeated rhetorical question, “Do we really need another one?” But that was before I actually listened to this reissue of performances that Read more were originally recorded and released in 1986 on three separate discs. Oddly, these particular recordings managed to escape me. I say “oddly” because I’ve admired Kuerti’s work, and he is considered a leading Beethoven interpreter, having recorded the composer’s complete sonatas. The Vienna-born pianist grew up in the U.S., attended the Curtis Institute, was a student of Arthur Loesser, Mieczys?aw Horszowski, and Rudolf Serkin, and 35 years ago adopted Canada as his home.


Two words that kept coming to mind as I listened to these performances were “solid” and “sound.” That may seem like faint praise, but in an age that has given us Beethoven on period pianettes sounding like they’re strung with rubber bands, and Beethoven with cadenzas that impress as having been written by someone in an insane asylum, “solid” and “sound” comprise high praise indeed. But there is much more to these readings than the sense of comfort one takes in their normalcy. Kuerti has clearly lived with this music for a long time, and one can hear how comfortable he is in Beethoven’s skin. The phrases flow with a naturalness that always sounds spontaneous but exactly right. Even the sudden off-the-beat accents Beethoven was so fond of have their intended effect without sounding forced or studied. Just listen to the last movement of the C-Major Concerto (No. 1), which is a study in deliberately misplaced accents. And the Toronto orchestra under Andrew Davis engages Kuerti in one of the most laugh-out-loud games of mimicry you are ever likely to hear.


The C-Minor Concerto (No. 3) is equal parts magisterial and menacing, as it should be. When the piano enters with its assertive ascending double scales, Kuerti makes sure we hear each note precisely in rhythm, not like the blurred, almost glissando-like treatment they are often given. But there is a softer, lyrical side to Kuerti as well. Listen to the delicate filigree he spins in the development section of the first movement. Even in the playing of the cadenza—the more familiar one of the two Beethoven wrote for this concerto—Kuerti makes more of it than a purely technical exercise.


The G-Major Concerto (No. 4) is the acid test for any pianist, not because it is necessarily more technically challenging than the others, but because it’s the peculiar one among the five siblings. It inhabits a dual world characterized by lyric expansiveness and Apollonian repose on the one hand, and heightened dramatic dialogue on the other. To capture the multifaceted personalities of this emotionally and psychologically complex concerto requires an artist of extreme sensitivity and responsiveness to its fluctuating and fluid states. I’ve always held Leon Fleisher and George Szell in especially high esteem in this work, but I have to say that even they are outclassed by Kuerti and Davis.


No pianist I’ve ever heard plays the “Emperor” Concerto badly. It’s one of those works so central to the repertoire that you don’t dare perform it in public or commit it to disc unless you’re well rehearsed and fully prepared. That is not to say, however, that everyone plays it equally well. So how does Kuerti fare in this concerto upon which neither great evil seems ever to fall, nor unsparing fortune seems ever to smile? The simple answer is that precedent is not overturned. This is a very good performance, and I do not mean to diminish its worth with picky niggling; but it does exhibit a few interpretive quirks. One that occurs right off the bat is in the piano’s opening cadenza-like recitative, between 17 and 23 seconds, where Kuerti elongates and separates the notes to an exaggerated extreme.


Recordings of the individual concertos are too numerous to make comparisons among them meaningful, so I will limit myself to just a handful of complete sets of more or less like performances. Of those I have direct access to—Perahia/Haitink, Brendel/Levine, Ashkenazy/Solti, Ax/Previn, Fleisher/Szell, and Serkin/Ozawa, I would have to say that Kuerti’s overall approach comes closest to Serkin’s, not surprising given that Serkin was one of his teachers. The interpretive stance is probably least like Perahia/Haitink, whose approach strikes me as softer-grained and not as assertive. Ashkenazy/Solti and Ax/Previn seem to be of fairly similar minds when it comes to tempos and expressive manners, with Ax/Previn enjoying the better-recorded acoustic and sound. Alfred Brendel of course is recognized as practically the patron saint of Beethoven, having recorded the concertos in the 1960s for Vox, in the 1970s for Philips with Haitink, in the 1980s again for Philips for the aforementioned set with Levine, and in 1997–98, yet a third time for Philips with Simon Rattle. His interpretations over the years have aged, mellowed, and become refined, like a fine wine, but they have retained their essentially cerebral, slightly aloof quality. The set I have long found to be the all-around most satisfying has been Fleisher/Szell. Unfortunately, the 1960–61 recordings that appeared originally on Epic LPs (now on Sony CDs) are somewhat congested in sound and suffer from a bit of dynamic overload.
Unquestionably, Kuerti and Davis will join the others mentioned above at or very near the top of the list. This is a very strong buy recommendation."



FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Concerto for Piano no 1 in C major, Op. 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Anton Kuerti (Piano)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1795; Vienna, Austria 
2.
Concerto for Piano no 2 in B flat major, Op. 19 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Anton Kuerti (Piano)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793/1798; Vienna, Austria 
3.
Concerto for Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Anton Kuerti (Piano)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
4.
Concerto for Piano no 4 in G major, Op. 58 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Anton Kuerti (Piano)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Toronto Symphony 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:  Anton Kuerti (Piano)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809; Vienna, Austria 
6.
Fantasia in C minor, Op. 80 "Choral Fantasy" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Anton Kuerti (Piano)
Conductor:  Sir Andrew Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1808; Vienna, Austria 

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