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This is a particularly beautiful rendition which should provide gratification even to the more discriminating, discerning, and eclectic listener.
Stephen Hough has made meticulous preparation and his performance possesses clarity, dexterity, virtuosity while it captures the character and intent of the composer for the concertos, their individual movements and parts within movements. But it would be a grave omission not to give an equal credit to director Hannu Lintu and his superb Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. For it is the holistic effect and the continuous dialogue between soloist and orchestra that impacts the listener and provides fulfillment.
The meticulous preparation and attention to detail by Hough extends not only to the rendition but also to the music itself. In this regard, I would like to point that for Piano Concerto No.2, first movement, Hough is playing his own cadenza, following the tradition of improvised cadenzas that was prevalent when the work was composed; but for a reason because the cadenza Beethoven wrote in 1809 for Archduke Rudolph is somewhat problematic due to its advanced style and extended keyboard compass that are quite out of keeping with the rest of the concerto, and the music tends to sound rather incongruous.
A point might be in order for the Bosendorfer piano used in this recording; this is a 19th century instrument with beautiful, clear and rounded sound but is not powerful. I had listened to Hough playing on this piano, Brahms' Final Piano Pieces in an exemplary rendition but on that occasion the sound required was piano or pianissimo. I was concerned, therefore, how pianist and piano would cope with the vigorous and energetic sounds required in Beethoven's Piano Concertos 4 &5; after listening to them I was reassured as was another reviewer sharing the same concern with me.
I'm pretty sure that Stephen Hough and his Finnish colleagues would acknowledge that Beethoven's efforts have to be given pride of place, in any performance of his music, but these are the best performances and best recordings of Beethoven's piano concertos which I have ever heard. Hyperion's recording is at its miraculous best, enabling the listener to appreciate both the phenomenal dexterity of Stephen Hough's playing and the magnificent orchestral support from the wonderful Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, faultless throughout.
This is how great music should be performed. Thank you all, to Stephen Hough, the Finnish Radio Symhony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu and the sound engineers. I heard just one of these concertos and bought four copies as gifts. I have listened to all five concertos now; they are all superb.
Stephen Andrew Gill Hough, geboren am 22. November 1961 , ist ein ausgezeichneter britischer Pianist. Sein Vater war Australier und so besitzt er sowohl die britische wie auch australische Staatsbürgerschaft. Er lebt abwechselnd in England und in den USA. Leider ist er bei uns ( zu Unrecht ) eher weniger bekannt. Pianistisch ist ihm nahezu nichts unmöglich, er spielt technisch perfekt und virtuos. Dies belegen seine Aufnahmen der Rachmaninoff, Mendelssohn und Saint Saens Konzerte ( bei Hyperion ) , die man als Referenzaufnahmen bezeichnen kann. Auch für eine Einspielung von zwei Hummel Konzerten mit dem Englischen Kammerorchester ( bei CHANDOS 1987 ) wurde er ausgezeichnet. Zu Beginn seiner Karriere blieb er jedoch sehr an der Oberfläche der Werke, es fehlte das Zupackende ( Mozartkonzerte 21 u. 9 , EMI 1987 ) vgl.Kritik dort ! Aber er arbeitet unentwegt an sich und entwickelt sich weiter. Eindrucksvolles Beispiel sind die hier vorliegenden Aufnahmen der Beethoven Klavierkonzerte mit dem finnischen Radiosinfonieorchester unter Hannu Linntu ( bei Hyperion 2020 ). Hier legt er die beethovenschen Partituren einfühlsamer aus, bleibt pianistisch natürlich nichts schuldig und spielt im zweiten Konzert sogar eine eigene Kadenz ( sonst die von Beethoven skizzierten Kadenzen für Erzherzog Rudolph ). Diese Aufnahmen machen Freude, auch die Leistungen von Dirigent ,Orchester und Aufnahmetechnik, wenn diese Einspielung auch Brendel und Kempff nicht toppen kann. Auch der Amerikaner Inon Barnatan kann mit seiner Beethoven Konzerteinspielung zusammen mit der Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields ( 2020 bei PENTATONE ) vgl.Kritik dort ! - etwas mehr überzeugen.
Premetto che apprezzo molto Stephen Hough: i suoi concerti di Rachmaninov sono davvero elettrizzanti, così come è delicato quando suona Hummel. Memorabile poi la sua stupenda incisione della musica per pianoforte di Franck. Qui però la magia non riesce. Non c'è quell'ésprit de finesse che serve per Beethoven. Tutto è un po' legnoso, impastato e poco raffinato. L'orchestra finlandese, seppur buona, non è all'altezza delle migliori orchestre europee e americane (Wiener, Berliner, London Symphony, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Cleveland....). La scelta poi di suonare una cadenza propria nel secondo concerto si rivela un fiasco e nulla valgono le motivazioni addotte nel libretto. Insomma, tre stelle perché la musica di Beethoven è talmente bella che non è possibile stroncarla, ma questa incisione è da dimenticare...
There are so many recordings of Beethoven’s complete Piano Concertos that just assembling a list would be baffling. Currently, I have at least 22 complete sets along with countless recordings of individual concertos. There are some sets I turn to often (Kempff/Leitner, Fleisher/Szell) and some I don’t (Rubinstein/Barenboim). Stephen Hough has made a reputation over the decades of either recording off-the-beaten-path repertoire, or programming standard repertoire in a unique manner (as with his “In der Nacht” album). I’ve heard Hough in concert more than any other pianist, and both live and on record I’ve become convinced that Hough is his own man when it comes to interpretation. He learns the background behind the music’s composition, studies the score, and draws his own conclusions rather than serving up diluted versions of others’ interpretations – which is why I find his music making so fresh, even in very familiar repertoire. So it is with this Beethoven Concerto set.
Hough prizes clarity and balance over warp-speed passages in the First Concerto’s opening movement, where he plays the lighter of Beethoven’s two surviving cadenzas. The central Largo is given a flowing treatment. Hough’s balancing of the left and right hand parts highlights the rollicking merriment of the finale.
Many dismiss the Second Concerto (which was chronologically the first) as not being “real” Beethoven. True, it’s in a much earlier style (parts dating back to 1887 when Beethoven was only 16 and Mozart very much alive) and a relatively small scaled work. But I’ve always found the work most congenial, and pianistically it’s far ahead of anything Mozart attempted. Hough’s own cadenza is more in the style of Beethoven’s early writing than Beethoven’s own (which was composed in 1809 by which time his last piano concerto had already been premiered). Pianists composing and even improvising their own cadenzas was very much in fashion in Beethoven’s time and I’d like to see a return to this tradition. But I doubt many of today’s pianists would be able to create one as skillfully as Hough has here. Hough discreetly embellishes the finale’s piano part in a few spots. Purists will sniffle but I found it refreshing.
The Third Concerto’s opening movement is leaner than usual, with brisk tempi and every ornament perfectly placed. By contrast, the Largo is uncommonly meditative, though Hough and Lintu never let the pulse sag. The finale caps things off with appropriate gusto.
Hough begins the Fourth Concerto with a surprise: he arpeggiates the opening chord. As with the embellishments in the Second Concerto, purists will be offended by this as well as other expressive gestures. But Carl Czerny – who studied with Beethoven and heard him play this very work – added an arpeggio sign next to that opening chord in his edition of the work, and Beethoven himself liberally embellished in this concerto – some of which exist in writing. On the other hand, Hough does not play the high treble extensions that many pianists do, sticking with Beethoven’s text which was a necessary compromise because the keyboards of his day didn’t go high enough. He maintains a steady, measured pace with fine clarity of finger-work. The central Andante is notable for its restraint and Hough’s balancing of the theme with its chromatic accompaniment. The finale is likewise measured, and notable for Hough’s adherence to some of Beethoven’s pedal markings which make for some striking sonorities.
Hough begins the Emperor concerto with unusually steady and clear arpeggios, runs, and double trills, and much of the movement is, well, imperial. The flowing Adagio leads to a lithe Finale, with occasional flirtatious turns and naughty ritardandos that leave the listener wondering what to expect – a rarity in this oft-performed concerto. The orchestral contribution should not be underestimated here. The orchestra’s seating (1st violins on the left, 2nd on the right, with violas & celli in the middle) is much as it would have been in Beethoven’s day, which results in a more dimensional sound accompaniment. The string sound is lean with sparse vibrato without being thin, and woodwinds, brass, and percussion each do their thing admirably. The engineering is a nice balance between dynamic immediacy and hall ambience. If you live in fear of having your musical ideas challenged and only want to hear Beethoven’s concertos played “like they’re always played”, this set is not for you. But those with open minds will find this refreshing listening.
Good sound. Solid interpretations. AND a very enjoyable listening experience. The price is very low and is a great set of Beethoven. One should purchase even if they have other favorites in these works. Hough's Rachmaninoff set is my favorite next to the composer's. The point? You will not disappointed