BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos Nos. 3, 4, 5 – Artur Pizarro, piano/ Scottish Chamber Orchestra/ Charles Mackerras, conductor – Linn multichannel SACD CKD 336 (2 discs), 103:22 total ****:
At 84 years of age, Charles Mackerras just keeps on learning and reevaluating. His set of Mozart symphonies on Linn (also SACD) shows an intellect at work that is still rethinking the best way to present those pieces. Now here, with the 46-member Scottish Chamber Orchestra once again under the recording lights, we have the last three of Beethoven’s piano concertos. As in the Mozart, Mackerras seems to be moving away from period instruments in this last phase of his life, and the results are sterling. Granted, there are a few period remnants remaining in these performances, but I am amazed at how willing he is to temper them in these modern instrument readings.
Punchy timpani and smacking brass are of course one of those remnants, and welcome at that. String sound is given full thrust (with vibrato), and Mackerras obviously has decided to play these pieces as the romantic masterpieces they are. Even the tempos prove a surprise. No. 3 is as measured and deliberate as I think I have ever heard in a recording, and I kept waiting in the first movement for him to pick it up a bit, but he remains true to his decision and proceeds along with a determined defiance of any expectations I might have harbored. No. 4 remains the lyrical masterpiece it is, with soaring strings and brazen horns punctuating the piano part with more than piecemeal effect.
The “Emperor” is given as stately and energetically regal as any on record. If I didn’t know better I would think the conductor having a late life crisis and revisiting the mainstream tradition in these works, but I have become so used to his style that what I consider a return to tradition is in fact a continuation with light modifications of the path he has been on for the last ten or so years.
Artur Pizarro has been making headlines all over the world with not only his Beethoven but also his traversal of the French Impressionistic repertory as well. His Bluthner Concert Grand used in this recording has just the right balance between percussive projection and more lyrical qualities, a near-perfect combination for Beethoven of any stripe. This is so much better than the recent Goode recording of the complete five that I recently reviewed, and the Linn sound—typically—displays all involved in the best possible surround sound ambiance. Warmly recommended, even if you have multiple sets already.
— Steven Ritter