Beethoven: Piano Concertos / Buchbinder, Wiener Philharmoniker [blu-ray]

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Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 1–5 Rudolf Buchbinder, piano and conductor Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Recorded live at the Goldener Saal der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna on 5–8 May 2011

Bonus: - Buchbinder's Beethoven – A musical conversation between Rudolf Buchbinder and Joachim Kaiser

Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles (bonus): English, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Korean Running time: 186 mins (concertos) + 29 mins (bonus)

No. of Discs: 1 (BD 50)

In the late 1960s Leonard Bernstein caused a stir in London’s Royal Albert Hall when he played Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto whilst at the same time conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. We were not used to this sort of thing at the time. So that Bernstein could have maximum contact with his players, he turned the piano such that he was in amongst them, facing the orchestra with his back to the audience. He also removed the piano lid; in these ways his gestures could be seen clearly by the orchestral players and he could also maintain eye contact, an essential part of the conductor’s art. I remember a pretty stunning and immaculate performance on that occasion, but since then, most soloists have preferred to concentrate on their own music and leave the orchestra under the direction of someone else.
Buchbinder is one of the exceptions, preferring to direct the orchestra himself from the keyboard. He retains the normal soloist’s position with his profile to the audience and he has the piano lid raised. Considering this, the ensemble is remarkably good and mostly very tight, but there are times when there are imprecisions in togetherness, not only in rhythm but also in homogeneity of tone and colour. Sometimes I can hear less string sound at the start of a note, for example. So although there are great advantages in having one musician ‘in charge’ of a performance, I am largely in favour of using the services of a conductor as well as a soloist, especially in recorded music when a performance will be heard repeatedly and imprecise ensemble can become irritating.
That said, these performances are deeply felt and as the talk on the disc confirms, very thoroughly researched by Buchbinder who compares many different editions of the works he is performing.
I particularly liked the finales where there is real rhythmic vitality, combined in the third and fifth concertos with excitement and drama. The first concerto finale has wonderful wit and humour, but the opening of the fourth concerto finale is marred by poor ensemble caused by lack of a conductor. A really clear gesture must be given here to ensure precision and clarity.
Some movements are a little slow and heavy by modern standards. For example in the first movement of Concerto No.1, Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis on CD give a much lighter and more deft performance. Buchbinder chooses to play the first of Beethoven’s three cadenzas, slightly adapted towards the end, and he plays it superbly. Most players, including Kovacevich, play the longer and more dramatic third cadenza, whilst Argerich plays the second. It would be interesting to know why Buchbinder chose the first cadenza. The enclosed booklet talks about Buchbinder’s career and gives us some information about his study of the many editions that have appeared since Beethoven’s time, but more details of the results of his studies would have been welcome. However, the bonus interview on the disc with Joachim Kaiser is very interesting and stimulating.
The first movement of Concerto No.3 is hardly allegro con brio and the first movement of Concerto No.4, marked to be played allegro moderato is much more moderato than allegro. A little more rhythmic life would not come amiss in these movements. In Concerto No.4 Buchbinder gradually moves the pace forwards as the music progresses, but for me this is one of the less successful movements. Although the sound is often beautiful, the performance is sometimes sluggish and there are tiny imperfections in ensemble and intonation. In the second movement, Buchbinder’s orchestra plays the opening theme really staccato, as marked in the two editions of Beethoven’s score that I own, to telling effect.
The high point of these performances for me is the Emperor, which I enjoyed immensely. It really takes fire, has great rhythmic energy and verve in the outer movements, and Buchbinder produces some beautiful tone and the subtlest of rubato in the slower sections. Magnificent playing all round with some incisive and vigorous playing.
It must have been a great occasion to hear these performances live and this is a fine record of the event. The playing is highly efficient and thoughtful with some wonderful, poetic moments, but somehow the performances do not achieve the greatest heights.
On a lighter note, I would not recommend buying this disc as an introduction to classical music for youngsters. There are many close-ups of the players, but sometimes they look so middle-aged, often miserable and grey. I wish the Vienna Philharmonic would cheer up a bit. As a music teacher, I think this could put a beginner off classical music for life! For children, maybe it is better to turn off the picture and just listen to some fine music making. But for the rest of us, this is a disc well worth seeing as well as hearing.
-- Geoffrey Molyneux, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 708904

  • UPC: 814337010898

  • Label: C Major

  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Conductor: Rudolf Buchbinder

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Rudolf Buchbinder