The Complete Beethoven Piano Concertos / Ohlsson, Runnicles, Grand Teton Festival

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Great Performances, Great Sound and World-Renowned Artists! Reference Recordings is proud to present The Complete Beethoven Piano Concertos played by Grammy-winning Garrick Ohlsson, performing with the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra, conducted by Sir Donald Runnicles. A student of the late Claudio Arrau, Mr. Ohlsson is especially noted for his masterly performances of the works of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, as well as the Romantic repertoire. He is the only American to win first prize in the International Chopin Piano Competition.

This new recording represents a pinnacle in his career. The Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra consists of top talent from across the country, including more than 220 musicians from 90 orchestras and 65 institutions of higher learning, many performing together each summer for over 25 years. The Festival, founded in 1962, also welcomes yearly some of the most sought-after soloists and visiting artists in classical music today. Under the baton of world-renowned conductor Sir Donald Runnicles, these musicians come together to gather inspiration from the mountain setting and to provide spectacular music for Festival audiences. This album was recorded during live performances in July 2022, produced by Victor Muenzer, and engineered by Kevin Harbison.


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.

-- (Jed Distler)

Of all pianists before the public today, Ohlsson’s technique is among the most honest. Every note is present and accounted for, nothing ever fudged, all within an exquisitely calculated proportionality. His approach is, above all, lyrical. In fact, listening to the slow movements of these concertos, one would be hard-pressed to name another performance that sings with greater contour, poise and clarity. Harsh or ugly sounds are simply nowhere to be heard, though Ohlsson’s dynamic palette is varied and immense. Trills fairly sparkle and passagework, however exciting, never obtrudes on the critical element of the sonata principle: thematic characterisation and development. That Ohlsson is one of the least exhibitionistic of musicians is evident in the cadenzas, which emerge organically from the fabric of the music and seem perfectly integrated into the narrative context. Meanwhile, the concluding rondos seem ready to burst with a sense of elation and sheer fun.

In the C minor Third Concerto, a sense of ebullience outweighs the tragic. The Emperor (No 5) is a resplendent play of light and colour, its Adagio a stroll through Elysian fields, with the finale an exercise in kinaesthetic delight. My favourite of this set, however, is the Fourth. Here soloist and conductor outdo themselves in the execution of Beethoven’s subtlest expression. Orchestral balances are exquisite, drama abounds, the finale is fairly rollicking and Ohlsson plumbs the depths of the Andante con moto with the utmost simplicity. This is a bouquet of Beethoven concertos like no other.

-- Gramophone

I have several Reference Recordings in my collection and I’m always bowled over by their impeccability, where everything is recorded and mastered to perfection. For me, they’re the crème de la crème when it comes to recorded sound. This new release is no exception. The engineers have done a sterling job in placing the solo piano ideally in the sound picture. The three discs (Hybrid SACDS with Stereo SACD, 5.0 Surround SACD and Stereo CD layers) come nicely presented in the traditional fatbox format, and are well-annotated. There’s no doubting that this will be one of my Recordings of the Year.

-- MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: May 12, 2023

  • Catalog Number: FR-751SACD

  • UPC: 030911275129

  • Label: Reference Recordings

  • Number of Discs: 3

  • Period: Classical

  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Conductor: Donald Runnicles

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra

  • Performer: Garrick Ohlsson


  1. Concertos for Piano and Orchestra Nos. 1-5

    Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

    Ensemble: Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra

    Performer: Garrick Ohlsson (Piano)

    Conductor: Donald Runnicles

  2. The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43: Overture

    Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

    Ensemble: Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra

    Conductor: Donald Runnicles