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Beethoven Piano Concertos 2 & 4

Mikhail Pletnev with Russian National Orchestra/Gansch

DG 477 6416

An intriguing and compelling disc, despite the controversy insperable from Mikhail Pletnev. These are live recordings and little is lost by hearing the performances on CD. Pletnev's appearance on the platform belies his individual and wayward approach, which goes beyond what many listeners can accept. He saunters across the platform, acknowledges his audience curtly, and plays with seeming ease and without any of physical gestures that many pianists cultivate. Pletnev's intention though, as explained in David Gutman's notes, is to make Beethoven again 'as alive as anyone on earth'. He remembers that the works were 'composed during a time of improvisation', every phrase to be 'lived through as if in our real lives'.

So, the way to apporach this series is, first, to discard the score completely; too easy to score points against what is printed - but how completely did that represent what Beethoven actually played, questions Pletnev?

I have generally found his playing absorbing, and often greatly illuminating (see our several reviews on Musical Pointers and Music Web) and this was no exception. It is a roller coaster with Beethoven, with vagaries of phrasing and tempi which jolt preconceptions, but I found myself listening with uncommonly close attention. Also wondering about the role of the conductor with what is Pletnev's own orchestra, with which he has been touring and recording all the symphonies and concertos in a "Beethoven year". Was Christian Gansch a collaborator, or just there to help the orchestra fit with what Pletnev was doing on the night? Although Gansch's CV is substantial, you will not find him mentioned inside the booklet... The recording is vivid, and without intrusive audience noise. The balance varied a bit; ideal at the first entry of the piano in No 2, but sometimes brought forward more than I prefer, which will disturb but few listeners.

No-one's benchmark account of these concertos, of course, and others have been reviewed in these pages. For enthusiasts of composer and pianist they are not to be missed. My advice is to get this series, but to try to listen to them in conjunction with the same works as given by Duchable and his very articulate conductor John Nelson on their remarkable interactive DVD Ambroisie Interactive AMI 99403003.

Peter Grahame Woolf