"Ashkenazy and his Cleveland musicians give us some wonderful, absorbingly articulate music-making, expertly and lovingly recorded. To own this set is to be a privileged person." - Gramophone Magazine
Vladimir Ashkenazy's late-1980s Beethoven Concerto cycle gains a new lease on catalog life via Arkivmusic.com's on-demand reissue program. Although the pianist conducts from the keyboard, the Cleveland Orchestra's extraordinary precision and judicious balances between and within sections rival many versions led by full-time podium presences. The Clevelanders' chamber-like ambience and textural transparency markedly contrasts to Solti/Chicago's massive, sometimes overpowering sonorities in Ashkenazy's firstRead more cycle.
The Fourth concerto's slow movement most obviously demonstrates these differences: In Chicago the string tuttis materialize like Godzilla in slow motion, leaving the piano to fend for itself. By contrast, a genuine dialogue informs the faster, leaner Cleveland interpretation. Similarly, Solti's big-boned orchestral framework sacrifices some of the zest and wit of the First and Second concertos' outer movements, although Ashkenazy's meticulously articulated runs and ornaments prove more fluid, less heavily accented in Chicago.
The Fourth and Fifth concerto Rondos are more judiciously balanced in Cleveland, but are more dynamic and combative in Chicago, while the Cleveland Third concerto's finale inspires lighter articulation and more playful melodic inflections. For the record, Ashkenazy plays the shorter of the First concerto's completed first-movement cadenza, the Fourth's longer, more commonly heard option (the one favored by Schnabel, Arrau, Fleisher, and Goode), and, in the B-flat concerto's first movement, an excellent, brilliantly idiomatic cadenza of his own.
More improvisatory abandon would have been welcome in Ashkenazy's opening unaccompanied solo in the Choral Fantasy, in the manner of Rudolf Serkin, Anton Kuerti, Hélène Grimaud, and Julius Katchen, among my favorites. Once the orchestral variations kick in, abetted by a strong group of soloists and an expertly drilled chorus, the performance comes alive with spirited animation. On balance, this is the most consistently satisfying of Ashekanzy's three recorded Beethoven concerto cycles.
Concerto for Piano no 1 in C major, Op. 15by Ludwig van Beethoven Performer:
Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Classical Written: 1795; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 37by Ludwig van Beethoven Performer:
Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Classical Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Piano no 4 in G major, Op. 58by Ludwig van Beethoven Performer:
Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano)
Period: Classical Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Fantasia in C minor, Op. 80 "Choral Fantasy"by Ludwig van Beethoven Performer:
Terry Cook (Baritone),
Jon Garrison (Tenor),
D'Anna Fortunato (Alto),
Teresa Cash (Soprano),
Vladimir Ashkenazy (Piano),
Martin Horning (Baritone)
Cleveland Orchestra Chorus
Period: Classical Written: 1808; Vienna, Austria
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A solid set, but not outstandingDecember 16, 2011By T. Drake (South Euclid, OH)See All My Reviews"This cycle of Beethoven Piano Concertos was recorded at Cleveland's Masonic Auditorium in the 1980s. The Choral Fantasy, which is somewhat less commonly heard than the Concertos, is included.
In his many years as a pianist Ashkenazy earned a reputation as a straightforward, technically admirable, somewhat unimaginative pianist. Ashkenazy is primarily a conductor these days. In these recordings, we get to hear him in both roles, and he conducts like he plays. He's the ideal musician for those who want a normal interpretation - and since he's recorded nearly all the standard repertoire, the collector can acquire, via Ashkenazy, standardized performances of just about everything. Such is the case here: Ashkenazy follows nearly all of Beethoven's tempo and dynamic indications - except with regard to the sustaining pedal, which almost no one follows. It's all very well played. But there are times, particularly in the beginning of the Choral Fantasy (a long improvisatory-like solo piano passage), when I was left wanting more imagination.
Incidentally, in the G major Concerto, Ashkenazy does not play the extensions in the high treble that have become customary - he plays the passage as originally written by Beethoven to accommodate the smaller range of contemporary pianos. Also, in the B-flat Concerto, Ashkenazy provides his own cadenza - which is interesting and fits the Concerto as a whole. In the First Concerto's opening movement, he plays the least virtuosic of Beethoven's three cadenzas. I wouldn't have objected if Ashkenazy had written cadenzas for the first four Concertos (Beethoven specifically forbids a cadenza in the Emperor Concerto). Beethoven, who always improvised his own cadenzas, would probably be astonished to learn how regimented cadenza playing has become.
The Cleveland Orchestra's playing is spotless (they could probably play these works in their sleep), but lacking that last ounce of inspiration that comes from a great conductor with undivided attention. (To hear them at their best, check out the Fleisher/Szell set listed below.)
As for the sonics, the piano is placed somewhat forward of the orchestra, although individual instruments appear to have been spot-miked. The dynamics are also rather constricted. This set would make a good candidate for SACD remastering to open things up.
In sum, this is a well played and solid - but hardly inspired - set of Beethoven Concertos, in good - but not outstanding - sound.
Recommended sets: Kempff/Leitner: Beethoven: 5 Klavierkonzerte Fleisher/Szell: Beethoven: The 5 Piano Concertos/Mozart: Concerto No.25
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