Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concerto No. 4, I daresay, is most people's favourite, which perhaps means that we have most preconceptions about how it ought to be done. I thought Lubin's playing of the opening a shade nonchalant, almost a throwaway (probably anyone brought up on Dame Myra Hess would think the same). This is, in its historical context, so remarkable a concerto opening that I should have thought its special character might aptly have been more clearly underlined. Well, there are many good things in the movement, including the orchestra's shapely enunciation of the main secondary theme, Lubin's unassertive, gently pensive yet alive and glittering playing in the rapid music, and the deeply felt expressive climaxes (the dolce e con espressione passages). But
you will find—to go back to my very first point—that the differences in tone-colour and weight make the music significantly different in expression from what we are used to (this goes too, in particular, for the piano solo just after the central tutti). The Andante is taken a good deal more con moto (Beethoven's instruction) than it usually is; Lubin plays it gently and unassumingly, with limited drama, and it is certainly no less persuasive than in the average exaggerated performance one hears. The finale has plenty of fire, some imaginative touches of rubato, a good deal of delicacy in the high, piano writing, and one or two moments of careless articulation. In both the Fourth and the Emperor the piano is by Rodney Regier, maker of the one for the First Concerto, but here the model is an 1824 Graf (the standard for Viennese pianos of Beethoven's maturity), and it is suitably larger in tone, with strings 22.214.171.124.6. The opening of the Fifth, done with modest tonal resources on the piano and no fulsome rhetoric, yet sounding fresh and original, provides still more food for thought about Beethoven's intentions. The movement is taken at a lively pace, with crisp orchestral playing: how bold and new-sounding this music must have seemed to its early audiences? And here it still does, I might add. In some passages there is a sense of effort in Lubin's playing, but the whole is very impressive, with the high-lying C flat material coming across with the greatest of delicacy and expressive refinement. In the Adagio there is some compelling soft playing from him, but I do wish he had been more attentive to the weak-to-strong slurring in the pages of semiquavers (accompanying the wind recapitulation)—some of them might as well have been slurred in ordinary groups of four as far as the listener is concerned, and Beethoven's intended effect is lost. I could have done with more of sheer exuberance in the finale, but there is much fineness of detail to enjoy.
In all, then, a set that demands to be taken very seriously by anyone who loves Beethoven or thinks he knows and understands these very familiar pieces. These performances are not the last word on period-style Beethoven concertos, but they are a pretty impressive first word—well thought out and executed by both Lubin and Hogwood, with some spirited and sensitive orchestral playing and a generally high standard of ensemble, and excellently recorded too, with a well managed solo/orchestra balance—different from what you may be used to in Beethoven concertos, but perhaps closer to what Beethoven heard in his imagination than anything recorded before.
-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [5/1988]
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 4 in G major, Op. 58 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Steven Lubin (Piano)
Academy of Ancient Music
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
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