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Ullmann: Piano Concerto; Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 3 / Schuch, Elts

Ullmann / Schuch / Elts
Release Date: 01/29/2013 
Label:  Oehms   Catalog #: 833   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Viktor UllmannLudwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Herbert Schuch
Conductor:  Olari Elts
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ULLMANN Piano Concerto, Op. 25. BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 3 Herbert Schuch (pn); Olari Elts, cond; WDR SO Cologne OEHMS 833 (55:12)

Viktor Ullmann gets top billing on this disc, over some fellow named Beethoven. Listening suggests why: This Beethoven performance is an honest, clean one on a modern piano with a modern symphony orchestra, but it cannot compete with the superstar recordings, particularly, in my Read more view, Murray Perahia and the Concertgebouw under Haitink. This phrase here, and that one there, seem ideal, but they do not all blend together smoothly. The performance thrills for a moment but then falters or stutters before taking off again. It sounds as if Herbert Schuch, despite his obvious chops, is trying too hard, whereas the whole rolls easily off the fingers of a Perahia or a Fleisher. Orchestral tuning and balances are also inconsistent; the ensemble is generally solid in forte climaxes but can be queasy or even shrill in quieter passages. Some transitions between sections in the finale are distinctly awkward.

Since the 37-minute Beethoven concerto seems to have been chosen to serve as filler for the 18-minute Ullmann, one assumes that the latter is the raison d’être of this disc. Indeed, Schuch and the orchestra come alive, the performance far more vital than that of the Beethoven. This is not just a matter of the work being unfamiliar, but a clear issue of comparative realizations. Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944) grew up in Vienna, heard the premieres of Das Lied von der Erde and of Gurrelieder ; and studied briefly with a Schoenberg pupil, Josef Polnaur (thanks to the program notes for that). His 1939 Piano Concerto, however, reeks of both Korngolds, the brilliant Vienna youth and the duller Hollywood adult. In addition, much of the solo line in the opening Allegro con brio could have been lifted from Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Nevertheless, it is a lively, exciting movement. An Andante tranquillo makes little impression; Mahler’s serenity without Mahler’s backbone, perhaps. The scherzo starts brilliantly, but its aggressive dynamism eventually degenerates into what we think of as movie music. A similar false start gives way in the Allegro molto finale. Schuch makes the most of the piece, just enough to be convincing on first hearing, but not thereafter.

One mustn’t let this disc run on past the Ullmann, as Beethoven’s noble opening phrase demolishes it; there is nothing here to challenge one of the masterpieces of the repertoire. There has been, to my knowledge, only one other recording of Ullmann’s concerto, by pianist Igor Arda?ev with Gerd Albrecht leading the Czech Philharmonic, on an all-Ullmann Orfeo CD. As fine as that one is, I find a more adventurous spirit at work here, with equal chops.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano, Op. 25 by Viktor Ullmann
Performer:  Herbert Schuch (Piano)
Conductor:  Olari Elts
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; Prague, Czech Republ 
Concerto for Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Herbert Schuch (Piano)
Conductor:  Olari Elts
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 

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