Garrick Ohlsson and Donald Runnicles accomplished the ambitious feat of recording all five Beethoven piano concertos over five consecutive days in July 2022. You wouldn’t know that from these unpressured and poised performances, at least for the most part. The Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra may be a pick-up aggregation, yet Runnicles obtains world-class results by way of clear-cut balances between orchestral strands, and virtually immaculate unanimity of ensemble attacks and releases.
Ohlsson’s 74-year-old fingers operate at unambiguous full capacity. Runs and trills are as accurate, assured, and directional as ever; themes are thoughtfully characterized and articulated with variety. Unlike many pianists who rattle off the “Emperor” concerto’s introductory cadenza like a day at the races, Ohlsson’s shapely phrasing draws attention to the composer rather than to himself. I’m especially taken with Ohlsson’s vocally informed legato and rapt sustaining power in all five slow movements, where he strikes a happy medium between his one-time mentor Claudio Arrau’s rhetorical inflections and Wilhelm Kempff’s luminous intimacy (the pianist’s hauntingly calibrated left-hand tremolos in No. 3’s Largo seem to emerge from afar). The assiduously dovetailed rapid exchanges between soloist and orchestra in No. 4’s Rondo either result from painstaking rehearsal or profound mental telepathy.
To be sure, all is not perfect: Tempos bog down in No. 1’s Allegro con brio from the development section on, while No. 2’s underplayed Rondo Finale lacks the bracing angularity that Schnabel, Kapell, Gould, and Fleisher brought to this music. The Creatures of Prometheus Overture that follows the “Emperor” on Disc 3 begins with a crisp, hard-hitting introduction, then settles into auto-pilot for the main section. If the Ohlsson/Runnicles Beethoven cycle falls short of the freshness and individuality distinguishing recent contenders like Zhang/Stutzmann, Barnatan/Gilbert, and Hough/Lintu, these superbly engineered recordings still offer much to savor.
-- ClassicsToday.com (Jed Distler)