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Beethoven: Piano Concertos 3 & 5 / Eschenbach, Henze, Ozawa

For many modern day musiclovers Christoph Eschenbach is a noted conductor who has been the music director of such august organizations as the Zurich Tonhalle, the Houston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra and currently the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. But for those of us who are a little older, he was earlier known as a talented, deeply musical pianist and it is that side of Eschenbach that we hear on this disc. Recorded in the 1970s, we hear the Beethoven Third and Fifth Piano Concertos.

The recording of the Third Concerto in C Minor, Op. 37, was made in 1971 with the London Symphony Orchestra during one of the orchestra's glorious periods. Trevor Harvey writing in the Gramophone in 1972, heard “penetrating insight and brilliance” in Eschenbach’s performance of Beethoven’s C minor concerto, but found the conductor’s contribution – Hans Werner Henze, no less – “often sluggish”. Getting on for forty years later, I can only agree with the first judgement as much as I disagree with the second. I was fascinated to hear what kind of a showing Henze would make as a conductor in such a work. The very opening is smooth and soft-grained, and the orchestral sound is more early Romantic than anything Classical. But to my ears the playing and the pacing of the music is full of character, and when the orchestra is given a purely subsidiary role the conductor and soloist are as one.

The Emperor Concerto is a complete triumph. It was recorded in 1973 with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony. The conductor, orchestra and pianist are in complete sync and this brilliant work is carried off with élan. One hears echoes of Schnabel's approach in Eschenbach's performance.

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  • Seller location: Lower Hutt City, Wellington, NZ

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