Sunday, 20 September 2015

Beethoven - Complete Piano Concertos - Uchida/Sanderling

Rating: 5/5

An excellent cycle

This is an outstanding complete cycle of Beethoven's Piano Concertos. I ordered it after being very disappointed with the Brendel/Rattle set (from which I expected great things being a great admirer of both) and this Uchida/Sanderling set was a revelation. Uchida's more recent recordings of the late Piano Sonatas have proved her to be a very fine interpreter of Beethoven, winning almost universal praise, and this re-issue of her earlier ventures into Beethoven shows that she is very, very good in the concertos as well.

As with her excellent Mozart concertos, one of Uchida's great strengths is her restraint and refusal to resort to the sort of techniques which are intended to draw attention to the brilliance of the soloist and which (in my view, anyway) distract from the brilliance of the music. It isn't that she is cold or uninvolved - very far from it - but she uses her virtuosity to the service of Beethoven, not to the service of Uchida, and the result is magnificent music-making. She (as always) has a lovely tone and her technique is impeccable which makes the slower movements truly affecting and really memorable (the Adagio of the Emperor Concerto is stunning), and she has the power to give it some real welly when needed without it ever feeling forced or harsh.

Sanderling and the two orchestras he conducts on the set are also outstanding, with a real feel for both the music and for Uchida's playing; the partnership is a joy. The whole thing is a real tour de force from start to finish and I'm surprised that this cycle isn't better known - I think it knocks spots off several more celebrated sets. Furthermore it's an amazing bargain: as I write you can get the three-disc set for well under a tenner.

Experienced Beethoven listeners will all have their individual favourites playing each of the concertos, of course, and not everyone will like every concerto here as much as I do, but if you're looking for a really good complete cycle you have very little to lose and a wonderful musical experience to gain with this set and I recommend it very warmly indeed.

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