Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Buchbinder and the VPO give magnetic performances in a live Beethoven concerto cycle recorded by Sony

The Vienna Philharmonic  regularly holds subscription concerts on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. In May 2011 two unusual concerts were held on a consecutive Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning with cameras and microphones placed to record the special event.

Rudolf Buchbinder  was to direct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from the keyboard in all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos, playing the Second, Third and Fourth on the Saturday and the First and Fifth on the Sunday.

There would be no opportunity to repeat these works or correct any mistakes on the recording.

The results of this event have now been issued by Sony Classical  on a 3 CD set.
Rudolf Buchbinder and the Vienna Philharmonic have worked together many times before and he has toured these works extensively, something which shows to a great degree in the recordings of these two remarkable concerts.

That Buchbinder is a master Beethoven pianist is not in doubt given that he has already recorded an award winning Beethoven sonata cycle for Sony. So how would these live performances measure up?

The opening Allegro con brio of the Piano Concerto No.1 in C major, Op.15 starts with some fine phrasing as well as lovely dynamic playing from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Buchbinder’s direction. There are some lovingly shaped orchestral phrases as well as some beautiful woodwind allowed to show through. When the piano enters there are light textures, clarity and a Mozartian sense of forward flow. There is a great fluidity in Buchbinder’s playing showing the simple beauty of a Beethovenian scale. The cadenza is quite formidable.

There is a finely wrought Largo with a lovely orchestral rubato and Buchbinder extracting so much intricate detail from the piano part. He brings a sense of tension to the music that’s so Beethovenian, with playing of real strength and poetry.

The rollicking Rondo. Allegro scherzando finale gets off to a terrific start with both Buchbinder and the VPO really throwing themselves into the music. Buchbinder’s accuracy is spot on and he seems to be enjoying every minute. The second subject is beautifully dovetailed with the orchestra and there is such a feeling of spontaneity that would be difficult to achieve in a studio. This is totally infectious playing from all concerned.

Coming to the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op.19, in the Allegro con brio, Buchbinder achieves fine ensemble from the VPO with terrific dynamics alive to every little nuance. Buchbinder, when he enters, is crisp, lithe and so thoroughly musical, relishing Beethoven’s many pianistic beauties, all the little phrases. He has such a sense of assurance and those little tensions that appear are wonderful. In the cadenza Buchbinder is particularly fine, with some lovely flowing lines.

There is a gorgeous, almost Brahmsian opening to the Adagio from the VPO. Buchbinder paces his entry especially well, allowing the music to unfold so naturally, with a fine sense of line and detail with pianist and orchestra perfectly attuned to each other. Both soloist and orchestra are supremely poetic in the hushed coda.

With the beautifully taut Rondo. Molto allegro Buchbinder’s fluency and drive are impressive as is the way he phrases more intricate moments with subtle restraint and so much fine spontaneity – quite thrilling.

What a fine opening there is from the VPO in the Allegro con brio of the Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37, drawing lovely taut, dynamic playing, full of anticipation. Buchbinder brings a full Beethovenian weight when he enters, direct even confrontational, yet so fluid, constantly making subtle little changes. Again it is remarkable how Buchbinder and the VPO are so at one. For all of this pianist’s sense of authority in this work, he still brings a sense of discovery and, yes, spontaneity. In the quieter moments there is playing of such sensitivity, finesse and understanding. The cadenza is beautifully done, fluid, thoughtful and dynamic, quite masterly. And how he builds the tension in the coda is equally impressive.

The poetic Largo is beautifully conceived with the VPO, when they enter, creating a lovely flow with a gentle rubato. Buchbinder provides some absolutely gorgeous playing and, towards the end, those lovely little ascending notes are exquisite, yet so full of feeling.

The Rondo – Allegro shoots off with more spontaneous playing from Buchbinder, a real joy. Given that this performance could not be patched or redone, Buchbinder shows a complete lack of inhibition. There are some lovely passages from the VPO woodwind section as well as some lovely little orchestral touches generally.  Buchbinder has a lovely touch, with his left and right hand lines weaving around each other brilliantly before the thunderous VPO timpani lead to the runaway coda.

Quiet, restrained opening piano chords open the Allegro moderato of the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op.58 before the wonderful VPO enter to build on the theme, drawing out all the individual orchestral lines. Buchbinder’s subtle graduating of dynamics when he enters is wonderful. He has such a strong left hand with some wonderful left hand lower phrases. Throughout, the VPO strings provide such a fine sound yet, as the movement progressed I realised, for all the size of the orchestra, how chamber like Buchbinder and the VPO seemed. Buchbinder’s pacing and phrasing is just so right and there is such a remarkable fluency and clarity as the movement progresses with a fine rubato, so subtly used. The cadenza is rhythmically quite enthralling and quite individual with some stunning playing and that fine left hand adding so much.

Buchbinder’s sensitive opening to the Andante con moto is offset by the VPO’s dramatic, clipped phrases in this magically conceived movement that builds the tension perfectly before the Rondo Vivace where the VPO enter quietly and Buchbinder joins gently before the dynamics increase. There are some lovely silken scales from this pianist and he throws himself into the music in the faster passages. The cadenza is again distinctive in its phrasing, giving a feeling of spontaneity before a terrifically robust coda.

What a fine opening to the Allegro of the Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major, Op.73 ‘Emperor’, the glorious VPO with Buchbinder full of power, clarity and fluency, building from quieter moments, full of tension, to full blown Beethovenian drama. The VPO are terrific in the little woodwind ensembles with Buchbinder adding so much poetry and suspense as he keeps the tempi back whilst playing individual little phrases, and those terrific descending piano scales are quite superb. Buchbinder’s firm left hand shows through again and there are so many individual touches. There is a terrific lead up to the short solo passage where the intimate sound of the piano is suddenly, magically contrasted with the music that surrounds it.

The beautiful strings of the VPO glide us into the Adagio un poco mosso where, when the piano enters, it is pure balm. The way Buchbinder paces this movement recalls Beethoven’s Mozartian roots. There are more lovely sounds from the VPO and the transition into the Rondo. Allegro man non troppo is perfectly done.

Buchbinder gives a terrific rhythmic bounce to his playing when the Rondo arrives, playing of joy and spontaneity with the feel of electricity running through it. The VPO really let themselves go and play their hearts out for Buchbinder right up to the coda.

Buchbinder is fully able to give virtuoso moments but he draws the listener more subtly by all the little insights and spontaneous inflections he gives. It is not merely tempo and volume that holds the listener; it is the sheer magnetism even in the quieter, poetic moments.

The live recording from Musikverein, Großer Saal is extremely good. The enthusiastic applause kept in but there is very little audience noise between movements. There are interesting booklet notes.

Our thanks must go to Sony for bringing us these special performances.

Even if you are not a fan of live recordings do give this set a try – I’m sure you’ll be thrilled. Available on line for less than £14.00 it deserves a place amongst whatever other recordings of these timeless works are on collector’s shelves.

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