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Beethoven: Piano Concertos No 1 & 2 / Schoonderwoerd, Ensemble Cristofori

Beethoven / Schoonderwoerd / Cristofori Ensemble
Release Date: 04/13/2010 
Label:  Alpha Productions   Catalog #: 155   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Luigi de FilippiArthur Schoonderwoerd
Conductor:  Arthur Schoonderwoerd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Cristofori
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 59 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos: No. 1; No. 2 Arthur Schoonderwoerd (fp); dir; Cristofori (period instruments) ALPHA 155 (59:33)

This is not just another Beethoven concerto cycle on period instruments; the difference lies in its modeling of the performing forces on documented early Viennese performances in the late 1790s, especially some directed by Haydn, with conjectural use of solo strings (or to be precise, solo first and second violins, cello, and bass; violas had the luxury of two players). Pitted against the Read more normal classical wind section (in No. 1 including trumpets and drums) and soloist, the effect of this drastic string reduction on the balance of the ensemble is every bit as radical as you would imagine. In practice, the first violin (singular!) gets by with a little much-needed help from the soloist, who improvises a very audible continuo throughout, thoughtfully doubling the violin melody in the process. But even with solo strings, the balance is by no means always to the soloist’s advantage, and in No. 2 especially, his passagework is sometimes overpowered by the little string sextet! (He uses a different instrument for each concerto, with a more sonorous one for the larger orchestra in No. 1.)

In the first movements, the wind-dominated ritornellos are wildly characterful, setting the scene for very free, improvisatory solo entries—that of No. 1 ear-catchingly embellished with unwritten suspensions, though such liberties are not typical of the performances as a whole. Despite the dynamic limitations of the instruments, the solo music comes across as dazzlingly colorful, a result both of the instruments themselves, with their distinctive sonic characters of different registers, and the playing style: His phrasing has a wonderful sense of freewheeling adventure (in No. 1, an uncorrected E? instead of E? in the left-hand passagework of bar 148 suggests a welcome prioritizing of spontaneity over note perfection), and he uses a remarkable variety of articulations, from the sharpest secco to delicately impressionistic pedal effects (the end of the development of No. 1 magnificently ghostly, with swelling solo strings, finally shattered by an explosive glissando into the recapitulation). Lyrical second themes have great “speaking” plasticity, Beethoven’s precisely notated legato-slur effects set in a delicate high relief impossible on the modern piano. (In No. 1, the instrument’s five-octave range puts paid to that notorious F? in bar 172—I must admit I love the shrugged-shoulders effect of resorting to F? here, a rarely heard pleasure even on period instruments.) Passagework is never rattled off mechanically, always expressively shaped (hear those descending embellished scales toward the end of the exposition of No. 1, bars 193 ff.—then the way he leans into the offbeat sforzatos in the following passage). In both concertos, he dispenses with Beethoven’s published cadenzas, replacing them with disconcertingly brief ones of his own—slightly disappointing that he wasn’t more ambitious here.

The slow movements are both memorably beautiful. No. 1 is faster than usual at 9:37 (though nowhere near Tan/Norrington’s rattling through in 8:17!), full of delicate golden sonorities, and with an unforgettably sharp textural vividness at the recapitulation’s internal reprise of the main idea, with its new barcarolle-style accompaniment. Unforgettable too is the bell-like beauty of soft-pedal effects in No. 2.

The finale of No. 1 brings the disc’s most controversial tempo choice, much slower than usual and surprisingly labored, though with compensations in the delightful textural pungency and sharp characterization of the central syncopated episode. That of No. 2 goes with great dash, and a few small textual departures from the norm: In the refrain, the tricky turns in bars 5–6 are missing; and in the transition, the rapid right-hand 16th-note split octaves have been changed to plain octaves in eighth notes. The end, with its dying away in shimmering high thirds, is magical.

Since the sound and style of these performances are so unique, they’re complementary to, rather than competitive with, other period versions. To hear these works performed with a string section, my top recommendations would be Lubin/Hogwood (Decca), rich, tangy, and characterful; and Levin/Gardiner (DG), grand, powerful, and technically commanding. Immerseel/Weil (Sony) are stimulating—tough, punchy, and driven—but probably more of an acquired taste. Tan/Norrington (Virgin) are very fast and light, and disappointingly lacking in color and inflection.

The recording is close, in a richly resonant acoustic; everything is extremely vivid, with Schoonderwoerd’s breathing often audible, though not distractingly. The production is lavish, with a mine of scholarly information not only about the works’ composition and early performance history, but also the historic recording venue and even its architect, complete with a sumptuous collection of photographs. Mandatory listening for anyone with the slightest interest in Beethoven performance practice.

FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 1 in C major, Op. 15 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Luigi de Filippi (Violin), Arthur Schoonderwoerd (Piano)
Conductor:  Arthur Schoonderwoerd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Cristofori
Period: Classical 
Written: 1795; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 05/2008 
Venue:  Saline royale d'Arc et Senans 
Length: 34 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Concerto for Piano no 2 in B flat major, Op. 19 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Arthur Schoonderwoerd (Piano), Luigi de Filippi (Violin)
Conductor:  Arthur Schoonderwoerd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Cristofori
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793/1798; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 05/2008 
Venue:  Saline royale d'Arc et Senans 
Length: 25 Minutes 29 Secs. 

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