Friday, March 26, 2010

Preview: Beethoven and the "heart of the piano concerto"



Krystian Zimerman performs the first half of the Rondo finale of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. (The rest of the movement is here.)

by Ken

Before I began collecting classical records, the family LP collection included a handful (five that I recall), one of which was an RCA compilation called Heart of the Piano Concerto, consisting of single movements from Arthur Rubinstein's catalog recordings of six favorite piano concertos. I was especially fond of the side that, as I recall, ended with AR's biting, ebullient performance of the Rondo finale of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto.

Eventually I got to know and love the whole Third Concerto -- and its four companions -- in a way that's special even among Beethoven's output. Tomorrow night I'll recall my similarly idiosyncratic introduction to the Fourth Concerto, in preparation for some notes Sunday on the Beethoven piano concertos, including hearing Nos. 3 and 4 complete (in a specially concocted "all-Rubinstein" No. 3, an "all-Schnabel" No. 4, and "all-star" performances of both), and we'll celebrate the often-orphaned sixth family member, the wacky and wonderful Choral Fantasy for piano, vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra (with not one, not two, but three recordings by the performer who for so long breathed so much life into it).


FOR NOW, HERE'S THAT RUBINSTEIN RECORDING OF THE
RONDO OF THE THIRD CONCERTO I LISTENED TO SO OFTEN


BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37:
iii. Rondo: Allegro



Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Symphony of the Air, Josef Krips, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded December 1956

As long as we're on the subject, I thought you might enjoy (I did!) this surprisingly different performance -- more lyrical, perhaps dreamier -- I happened just to rehear, from Evgeny Kissin's recent Beethoven concerto cycle (without the Choral Fantasy) with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony.


Evgeny Kissin, piano; London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. EMI, recorded Sept.-Oct. 2007

A RUBINSTEIN BEETHOVEN BONUS

While the Beethoven piano concertos became one of Arthur Rubinstein's specialties, his interest in the piano sonatas seems to have been more limited. He recorded a handful of pretty "standard" ones plus only a few others. But the sonats he recorded, he played amazingly beautifully. A lot of jaded music-lovers think they can't bear to hear the cocktail-party-famous so-called Moonlight Sonata ever again. When I listened to for the first time in long while after buying the CD that contains it along with the Pathétique, the Appassionata, and Das Lebewohl (or Les Adieux, "The Farewell"), I was overwhelmed by, well, just how, beautiful it is.

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 ("Sonata quasi una fantasia"; "Moonlight"):
i. Adagio sostenuto ii. Allegretto iii. Presto agitato



Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA/BMG, recorded April 1962

SATURDAY UPDATE AND APOLOGY:

Ohmygosh, I seem to have left out the audio file for the Moonlight Sonata! Aw, c'mon, "seem to have"? Who coulda dunnit except me? Am I imagining that gremlins broke into the file for this post and made off with the sonata? I could try blaming the DWT Technical Dept., but I doubt that anyone would buy that. Of course I left it out! This comes of being smart and thinking I could prepare this a bit ahead of time and just have it ready to roll, without bothering to check it. (And then I couldn't be bothered to check out what actually posted before now. Sigh.)

Anyway, the audio is now in place. I'm thinking, if I were out there I'd be screaming for a refund.

IN TOMORROW NIGHT'S PREVIEW --

We hear the legendary Beethovenian Artur Schnabel, among others, play the opening movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto, continuing our preparation for Sunday's overview of Beethoven's piano concertos.


SUNDAY CLASSICS POSTS

The current list is here.
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