BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos 2 & 4 – Barry Douglas, piano and conducting Camerata Ireland – Satirino Records

by | Nov 7, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos 2 & 4 – Barry Douglas, piano and
conducting Camerata Ireland – Satirino Records SR 051 (62 mins.):

Barry Douglas and Camerata Ireland (the chamber orchestra Douglas
formed in 1999, bringing together outstanding Irish musicians from both
the North and the South) set the Beethoven piano concerto sweepstakes
on its collective ear with this new recording, the first in a complete
cycle recorded in Mahoney Hall in Dublin. Douglas plays with such
physical beauty of sound (which the recording captures to a wonderful
degree), such seemingly spontaneously elegant phrasing, such interest
in each and every key transition point, and such command of the music’s
power that even listeners who know these two concertos well will find
new illumination and excitement. Like Krystian Zimerman’s breathtaking
1999 recording for Deutsche Grammophon of the two Chopin concertos with
the Polish Festival Orchestra, Douglas and his splendid, responsive
crew seem to have not only rethought each bar but proceeded to put them
together with absolute nobility of purpose and musical joy.

As just one example, after Douglas’s poetic introductory few bars at
the opening of the Fourth Concerto, listen to how sweetly, and totally
in synch with the pianist, the violins play their answer. And such
examples are legion. It is music making at the very highest level, so
charged with clarity that you could write out the score from their
performance. There’s nothing staid about the results, however: This is
a young person’s Beethoven, fresh, open hearted and exhilarating.
Incidentally, Douglas uses the composer’s cadenzas except for the first
movement of the fourth concerto which, Douglas says, “was composed by
the composer as an alternate.” I had never heard it before and found it
to be very appropriately in character with the wilder aspects of the
performance (although, oddly enough, less appropriate stylistically).

As I have said, the piano sound (a gorgeous Hamburg Steinway) is
recorded with unusual fidelity for this most problematic of
instruments, becoming spectacularly beautiful at high volumes. The
orchestra is recorded well, too, somehow managing to project its power
and instrumental detail, outstanding in the woodwinds, brass and
timpani and in the low strings, while still being slightly in the
background. The liner notes by Richard Langham Smith are fussy but
intriguing. Whether you are ready to update your Beethoven piano
concertos, or are just starting out, this new recording is a must.

After writing this review, I journeyed south to hear Douglas and the
Camerata in the flesh in a lovely, intimate hall in Fallbrook,
California, 45 minutes north of San Diego, where they played the Fourth
Concerto and Seventh Symphony plus small pieces by Penderecki and John
Kinsella. The result in the concerto was essentially the same as on the
recording (although it was hardly a cookie cutter reproduction), a
semi-controlled collaborative ride through some of the composer’s
happiest and most personal inspirations. They are playing twice more on
their current tour, on Nov. 9 at the Metropolitan Museum, in New York
City, and on Nov. 10 at Union College in Schenectady.

– Laurence Vittes


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