25 Essential Beethoven Recordings: The Piano Concertos

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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
Available at Arkivmusic.com