25 Essential Beethoven Recordings: The Piano Concertos

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An array of choices confronts the consumer looking to invest in a set of Beethoven’s piano concertos, with several decades’ worth of first-rate versions available.

So it may come as a surprise that our choice was released just three years ago. It features Richard Goode, the New York-based pianist who made his mark on the scene in the late 1980s with a seven-concert series of all 32 Beethoven sonatas at the 92nd Street Y. He subsequently recorded the sonata cycle over 10 CDs in 1993, and it remains a crown jewel in his catalog (he was the first American-born pianist to record a complete cycle, according to his label).

Goode, a deliberative and thoughtful artist, has said he generally dislikes recording concertos because the clock is ticking during recording sessions with orchestras. But he's also gushed about the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the chemistry he felt with the musicians and their conductor, Iván Fischer. It shows in the results.

Goode’s whimsical sense of humor shines through in the sparkling Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, while a larger tone and grand sense of form characterizes Nos. 3 and 4. The Fifth has these qualities and more, and while you never sense that Goode is a showboat, he plays with a vivid sense of animation and dialogue with the orchestral instrument. Of course, there are other strong versions, including those featuring Alfred Brendel, Artur Schnabel and Rudolph Serkin, but this one is consistent from start to finish.

Discuss our choices and leave your own favorites in the comments box below.

Piano Concertos 1-5
Richard Goode, piano
Ivan Fischer, conductor
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Nonesuch
Available at Arkivmusic.com

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Comments [4]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Musdic Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

ART, pictorial, is akin to the aural manifestations. Composers have always been painting in sound, sensing a visual companion to their creations. We, I am an opera composer, often identify the pitches and harmonies with colors. Painters and sculptors often have had music played in the background, live musicians in the days before recordings, to inspire their efforts. This was particularly true of the Romantic era of which Beethoven was creating masterpieces with colleagues such as Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, von Weber, and Wagner. Beethoven's symphonies, opera, concertos, sonatas, string quartets, overtures, chamber music generally ,and song literature, is so pervasive and his world consciousness and basic humanity construct an icon unparalleled to and past his own era. At Juilliard, I studied his oeuvre and , in those days, all singers learned the concert rep of Beethoven , Schubert , Schumann, Wolf and Grieg, whether they would be opera singers or concert singers . So much of our treasured masterpieces, vocal and instrumental, are unknown quantities to most Americans. THANK YOU WQXR FOR CELEBRATING BEETHOVEN !!! Beethoven's symphonies are the ABCs of most essential single composers' oeuvre of the symphonic literature. Who ever having heard the Waldstein well performed can ever forget its beauty and nuanced scope of emotions. Wagner and his contemporaries and their successors all recognized the epic achievement of Beethoven. I am a romantischer Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute at 418A Main Street, Boonton, NJ . I have sung four solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall. As part of my Ten Language Solo Debut concert at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, I sang the Gott ! welch dunkel hier ! aria of Fidelio. it can be heard from the live performance on my three websites, one of which is www.WagnerOpera.com It received rave critical notices in newspapers and magazines. Rudolf Serkin and his son, Peter are among those other great interpreters of Beethoven's piano concertos and sonatas, Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Walter Gieseking, ignace Paderevsky, Benno Moisevitch, Claudio Arrau, Oscar Levant, Egon Petri, Jesus Maria Sanroma, Kissin, Bronfman, Ashkenazy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Lang Lang and Simon Barere, remarkable for their virtuosity, and immense ability to interpret from their own perspective. The Beethoven violin concerto is celebrated by its ardent interpreters Heifetz, Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Milstein, Elman, David Oistrahk, Francescatti and Paganini. Among the greatest singers famous for their Beethoven performances in opera and concert my voice teachers Alexander Kipnis, Friedrich Schorr, Martial Singher, John Brownlee, and Margarete Matzenauer. Other famous singers with extensive Beethoven "rep" were Kirsten Flagstad, Helge Roswaenge, Heinrich Schlusnus, Ludwig Hoffmann, Josef Greindl, Jon Vickers, and Ludwig Weber.

Nov. 15 2012 12:06 AM
JS

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Nov. 14 2012 11:16 PM
Miles from Montclair, NJ

One can quibble as to which pianists/conductors have the best individual recordings of the Beethoven concertos. But I agree with Andrew: the best "set" I've heard is the live recording of Brendel with Levine conducting the Chicago. In a word, this set is as close to perfection as I've encountered by any combination of pianist/conductor --- and that goes for all five concertos, taken separately or together. When these two masters are at the top of their game (as they are here) they are simply unsurpassable. While admittedly I have not heard every set ever recorded, once I heard this one, I just stopped looking further.

Nov. 14 2012 05:37 PM
Andrew from Lower Merion, PA

Definitely an interesting pick, and not nearly as standard as the other WQXR picks (did someone pay the station to pick this one?). Didn't see this coming. Consensus is that Goode is simply to gentle in these dramatic and theatrical works, and I agree wholeheartedly. Beethoven--classical in form--was a theatrical and daring composer, pushing the envelope with everything he wrote. He ever wrote notes in high and low registers that did not exist on pianos of his time. These are dramatic works, each has theatrical elements: the terse opening motifs that open Ctos 1 & 3 that grow into an orchestral tuttis; and piano's entrance on beat 1 in Ctos 4 & 5. There is far more spunk and creativity in the concertos of Beethoven than Mozart, but you might not know it from these recordings. The Budapest Orchestra is fine, but Goode's playing is too light. While this approach--debatably--may be passable in the opening movements, which thrive on structure, it doesn't fit well with the rondo finales which thrive on speed and excitement. Goode tends to be soft and deliberate (and even a tad slow), when the music should be fleet and spontaneous and thrilling. There are good moments when Goode gets caught up in the excitement.

Among living pianists, I like:
--Argerich's pairing of Concertos 1 & 2 (it's a wild ride; very loud and reverbarant accoustics, so also not a standard pick)
--Kissin's recording of Concertos 2 & 5 with James Levine/Philharmonia
--Bronfman's Concertos 3 & 4 (and also 1 & 2) with that amazing Beethoven team of Zinman/Tonhalle Zurich (who recorded one of the best, if not the best symphony cycle of all time)
--The complete set with Brendel/Levine/CSO--it is both underappreciated (unfortunately) and unsurpassed.

I'm not familiar with the Ashkenazy/Solti and Perahia/Haitink sets, which I expect were also in the running for this pick. Can anyone weigh in?

Goode merely slips by in this exalted company. Either Goode earned the pick for being a NYC artist with a great local profile, or possibly WQXR was responding to my campaign for choosing active performers. I definitely give WQXR credit for choosing a recent recording and active performer.

Despite my advocacy for young, active performers, here I willingly concede to Brendel (who only just misses the "active" qualification; he gave his official farewell concerts in 2009).

Nov. 14 2012 10:56 AM

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No composer impacted the course of Western music like Ludwig van Beethoven. The events of his life are the stuff of Romantic legend, his works permeate concert halls and he remains a cultural icon outside of classical music, turning up in movies, TV soundtracks, commercials and pop songs. Throughout November, WQXR celebrates Beethoven's work through concert broadcasts, multimedia projects, marathons and other features.

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