LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN - Piano Concertos Nos. 3 and 4

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LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN - Piano Concertos 3 & 4 - Maria Joao Pires (Piano) - Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra - Daniel Harding (Conductor) - 880040412526 - Released: August 2014 - Onyx Classics ONYX4125

One would assume by now that with the high number of good recordings of the Beethoven piano concertos already on the market, that any musician venturing down that road would do so driving a pimped out sports car, which in musical terms would mean resorting to flash rather than substance, and imposing their own idiosyncrasies and mannerisms ( la Nigel Kennedy) on the music, simply to garner some undeserved attention. Such is not the case with Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires. Building on her long and critically acclaimed list of recordings on the Erato and Deutsche Grammophon labels, she chose to drive down that road in a silver Rolls Royce. No flash, but class and substance in abundance. Simple and straighforward, but yet very effective.

Having read the liner notes which include Maria Joao Pires' deeply insightful perceptions on the subject of 'interpretation', I can certainly understand why she doesn't impose her will and personality on the music, but rather acts as the prism that filters the essence behind the music, and allows us to perceive all of its colors. After all, this is Beethoven's music. Everything is there. No need to elaborate or embellish required.

Take for example the Andante con moto movement from the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58, to me, one of the most enigmatic and mysterious bits of music in all of music. Many pianists and conductors have tried to elucidate on its profundity by stretching out its various lines and phrases in many directions, by weighing it down, by pondering on the ponderous, all to no avail. On the other hand Maria Joao Pires and conductor Daniel Harding allow the natural underlying rhythm of the music to move forward on its own momentum, and the emotional core of the subject matter to unfold without giving away too much. All of which makes the enigma even more profound.

From start to finish here, even in the heaviest passages, Pires' playing is always articulate and characterized by a delicate touch that constantly allows all the finer details to shine through. For example, that long descending and ascending run at the 2:30 mark of the final movement of No. 4, is remarkable for its clarity and dynamic consistency. Her many years of experience have engendered flawless music-making that is evident behind every note on this new recording. Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra can't help but respond in kind to her fluid phrasing and innate perception of the music, and provide the perfect support and counterweight at all times. This is the first recording for Maria Joao Pires on the Onyx label. Let's hope they've signed a deal for many more.

2015 Gramophone Award Winner.

Jean-Yves Duperron - September 2014