Home Blog Page 2

First rate Beethoven from Uchida and Rattle

Beethoven: Piano Concertos 1-5

Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)

I have long-admired the pianist Mitsuko Uchida and frequently turn to her recordings of both the Mozart piano sonatas and concertos. Likewise I have been a fan of Simon Rattle ever since I saw first saw him conduct at Birmingham Town Hall so I approached this latest release from Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings with a sense of keen anticipation.

However, as Mitsuko Uchida’s earlier ‘cycle’ of the Beethoven concertos with Kurt Sanderling and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra attests, putting top class performers together is no guarantee of success. I never doubted that Uchida had the technique, tone and sensititivity to perform these great works to the highest level. Likewise Kurt Sanderling has the experience to bring out the best of two very good orchestras but somehow, for me at least, the marriage was far from satisfactory. Together they failed to capture the wit of the first, the simple elegance of the second, the drama of the third, the serenity within my personal favourite the fourth or the great majesty of the ‘Emperor’. That is not to say the performances could not be enjoyed; they are in excellent sound and are well enough played but that special something that brings out the eternal in Beethoven just isn’t quite there.

However I have no such qualms about this latest release. In these live recordings, each of the concertos is to be preferred to her earlier release and can stand comparison with the best. Uchida used her own sonorous Steinway grand for these performances and the Berlin engineers have captured both the inner subtlety and the vivacity of her playing. The Berliner Philharmoniker perform on modern instruments but Rattle’s interpretations have a clearly historically informed style. The fourth and fifth concertos are taken at slower speeds than I am used to but Uchida brings this off – in lesser hands it might well not have been so effective. There is such a sense of soloist, orchestra and conductor being in total empathy with one another it is hard to believe that this concert series was the first time they had performed together.

The modern listener is so spoilt for choice when it comes to recordings of these works that any newcomer needs something special to be of note and this certainly falls into that category. This was reviewed as a high resolution download direct from Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings with a digital booklet. It is also available, at significantly greater cost, as a luxury coffee table package containing 3 CDs + Blu-ray Audio + Blu-ray Video with hardcover book and a download code.

iClassical rating:

Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor – Work No. 77 in our collection

Robert Schumann (08.06.1810 – 29.07.1856) is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Schumann was the quintessential artist whose life and work embodies the notion of Romanticism in music. Schumann was not particularly comfortable with large forms but nonetheless composed four enjoyable symphonies, a cello concerto and a wonderful piano concerto. It was through his songs and short pieces for the piano that he was truly able to express the full range of his lyrical genius. His song cycle  Dichterliebe, Op. 48 and his piano pieces Kinderszenen, Op. 15, Kinderszenen, Op. 15  and Waldszenen, Op. 82 are brilliant examples of this.

Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 is a work in which he fused piano and orchestra in quite a unique way. This is not a virtuoso showcase for the soloist with the orchestra playing a bit part. Here the soloist (whose part is more taxing than it sounds) interweaves with the orchestra in a manner not previously heard. Listening to this three movement work it is hard to believe that it began life in 1841 as a single movement fantasy. The second and third movements were written some four years later when Schumann was persuaded that a larger work would be more likely to find a publisher!

We have chosen a remarkable performance of this work by a pianist who is less well-known than he should be, Radu Lupu. He performs the work with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn in a recording dating back to the 1970s. In its latest re-mastered offering the sound quality is now much more on a par with the outstanding performance.

View the other works in our collection.

Lu’s Beethoven is mature beyond his years

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4

Eric Lu (piano), Hallé Orchestra, Edward Gardner (conductor)

The jury of the 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition, chaired by Paul Lewis, eventually chose the twenty year old Chinese-American pianist, Eric Lu as the winner. This first release of Lu’s, on Warner Classics (part of the prize), contains two of his live performances from the competition. The work that he played in the final, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 and Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 ‘Marche funèbre’.

The Beethoven concerto is by far the most pleasingly performed of the works on this disc but we also get big performances of  the piano sonata and the opening Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52.  In the two much loved works major works, Eric Lu plays with great confidence, faultless technique and exhibits a pleasing degree of individuality. In the Chopin sonata he embraces the extremes contained within the piece and the Beethoven concerto is beautifully shaped. The young soloist interrelates with Edward Gardner and the Hallé Orchestra most effectively. Here we have a performer that is not only capable of pleasing judging panels¹ but also entertaining audiences. I hope that this CD helps to launch Eric Lu onto a very successful international career. Here is a young man to watch closely.

There is only one thing that mars my enjoyment of this recording and that is the highly audible coughing of an audience member at a crucial moment as the tritone scales begin to build to a climax in the slow movement of the Beethoven concerto (approx. 3:13) – shame on the Warner engineers and quality control staff for allowing this to be released without the cough being edited out. Nonetheless this is a release that should be heard by all lovers of fine piano music.

iClassical rating: 

¹ Eric Lu is also a winner of the prestigious Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland (in 2015).

Our top recommendations for January 2019

Each month, at iClassical, we pick three albums, either new releases or reissues, that we regard as being worthy of your special attention. We nominate one recent release as our overall CD of the Month. We also highlight a bargain choice, that offers exceptional value for money, and a collectors’ choice for those wishing to branch out a little!

Click on (or tap) the album cover to read our original review.

CD of the Month – Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvořák & Prokofiev: Violin Concertos Collection (Joseph Swensen, Scottish Chamber Orchestra)

Bargain Choice – Liszt: Études d’exécution transcendante (Boris Giltburg)

Collectors’ Choice – Lyatoshynsky: Symphony No. 3 (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits)

Discover our previous recommendations here.