BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15; Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19; Rondo in B-flat Major, Wo0, 6 – Boris Giltburg, piano/ Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/ Vasily Petrenko – Naxos 8.574151, 73:51 (10/11/19) ****:
Once more, a relatively youthful musician funds refreshment in long-proven scores of an old master: here (rec. 10-13 May 2019), Boris Giltburg injects vivid, thrilled energy into the two early concertos, 1793 and 1800, of Beethoven. Giltburg performs on a Fazioli instrument of warm temper. The clarity of the Liverpool clarinets, trumpets, and tympani set a bright tone for the entire first movement of the (later) C Major Concerto, whose martial energies and rocket figures find a delicious counter in the lyrical melodic tissue, trills, and colorful modulations from Giltburg. The orchestral tuttis ring with an extravagant sense of space, while Giltburg seeks out moments for intimate repose. Giltburg chooses the briefer of the two cadenzas Beethoven left us, an economical tour de force that eschews the flamboyant improvisation of its longer companion. What humor the music provides seems to nod to Mozart’s opera buffa style, while the breadth of the militant energy finds a close companion in Mozart’s late concerto in the same key, K. 503.
For the second movement Largo, Beethoven opts for the intensely fluid piano writing to find a partner in the orchestra’s clarinet part. Set in A-flat Major, the music reduces the orchestral tissue further, omitting oboes, flutes, trumpets, and tympani. The clarinets, horns, and bassoons, modulating by relatives into flat keys, produce a sonic mix that pays homage to Mozart. The last pages, with the presence of four-beat cadences, enjoys the lush presence of horn and clarinet to accompany the keyboard’s softer rendition of the martial gait, illumined by Giltburg’s suave glissandos, trills, and lilting parlando style. The witty Rondo: Allegro pumps up the playful militancy that has marked the entire concerto. Accents on the wrong beats, huffs and puffs in the brass, and thumps from the tympany add to the electric fervor of the writing. Additionally, Beethoven injects a kind of rumba rhythm into the mix, no less in the minor mode, that assaults and arrests the ear at every turn. The invention becomes enchanted in the cadenza, slow and creamy in its trills and haunted air in the flute, which then launches once more into the rondo theme, a bit manic. The main tune runs around in various colors until the oboe signals that the slow music will become the impetus for a jolly coda in full force.
The B-flat Concerto, Op. 19 made its first impression on this auditor via Rudolf Serkin and Eugene Ormandy. The layout of the first movement, Allegro con brio, explores two expositions, as though his melodic reserves enjoy a limitless fund of energy. Both Giltburg and conductor Petrenko inject a palpable schwung into Beethoven’s figures, at once paying homage to Haydn but no less infusing the symmetry of volatile momentum and poised lyricism with a shimmering elegance. Giltburg has several moments alone, pseudo-cadenza, in which his clear, liquid tone elevates the tissue with a fervor that nods to late Mozart. The playful scale passages sojourn through multifarious colors and suave rhythmic shifts, girded by the opening motif, ready to propel us inti the recapitulation. Listen to the flute part in lation tandem with Giltburg! The transition late in the movement into G-flat Major proves most alluring. With the cadenza, we first encounter a learned counterpoint in the manner of Bach, moving into chromatics, stretti, and then the main theme over a threatening left hand. The application of colorful scalar passages, once more in polyphonic mode, become increasingly hectic, until, after a passing sense of menace, the orchestra picks up the theme in fine resolution at the coda.
The Adagio brings us a young composer quite capable of emotional poise and tender sentiments. The flowing tune permits Giltburg to restate its impulse pianissimo. The chorale aspects of the music find a darker element in the orchestra, only to have the keyboard insist on the lyric sensibility. The infusion of winds into the mix with plucked strings and keyboard create youthful magic. The introspective aspect of the music reaches more fervent pitch, followed by a compressed cadenza. A kind of murmured interchange with the orchestra and a large trill by Giltburg invoke a dramatic tutti, then another brief solo, quasi-recitativo and with muted strings, fading into a rarified, woodwind space. The Rondo: Allegro molto presents another version of off-beat syncopations in the course of a martial mode. The breadth of Giltburg’s scale passages demand note. The humor, the various plays on jabbed notes and quick runs, spice up the texture, ringing with the piano’s double notes. The syncopated main tune recurs four times, even drifting into a G Major false reprise. Both singing and piercing, the music bears a joyful sense of its innate power and even more fervent promise, delivered by musicians enthralled by its thorough facility of means.
Speculation abounds concerning the 1793 Rondo in B-flat Major, ostensibly meant for the second movement of the Op. 19 Concerto. Some scholars argue that Carl Czerny, perforce, scored much of the piece because of Beethoven’s dilatory deadline style and the music’s jaunty, galant character, unsuited – presumably – for the tenor of the Op. 19. The insertion in the middle of an Andante – in conformity to Mozart’s E-flat Concerto, K. 482 – adds yet another, structural anomaly to the mystery of its exclusion from the B-flat Piano Concerto. Limitless elan suffuses this rendition, with Giltburg’s fleet ministrations finding equally potent response in the orchestra. The stately middle section – given its homage to Mozart – may well reflect the poised character we might attribute to Czerny’s style. Giltburg adds his own, colorfully relevant cadenza.
The production team of Andrew Keener and Simon Estes has collaborated on a consistently alert, fertile sound for this Beethoven entry.