Friday, 10 October 2014

Marking his 70th birthday year, Nelson Freire joins Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 and Piano Sonata No. 32 in a release from Decca that bodes well for a very fine and distinctive cycle

Riccardo Chailly www.riccardochailly.com and the Gewandhausorchester, Leipzig www.gewandhaus.de have built an enviable reputation in recent years particularly for their recordings for Decca www.deccaclassics.com . Their Beethoven and Brahms symphony cycles are a tremendous achievement as was Chailly’s partnership with Nelson Freire www.cami.com/?webid=165 for the Brahms piano concertos back in 2006.

Now from Decca, to mark Freire’s 70th birthday year, comes the first issue in a projected cycle of the Beethoven piano concertos again with Freire, Chailly and the Leipzig orchestra.

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For the first disc in this cycle this team give us the Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major, Op.73 Emperor and Beethoven’s last sonata, the Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111.

Nelson Freire is set to perform Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto on tour in Mexico and South America with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Vladimir Ashkenazy (9-17th September 2014). He returns to the work for concerts in St. Petersburg with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra (12 & 14 October) and at London’s Barbican Centre with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda (2nd November). Freire’s 2014/15 season also includes a recital at the Salle Pleyel, Paris (15th November) and performances of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in Zurich with the Tonhalle Orchestra and Lionel Bringuier.

In the Allegro of the Emperor Concerto Chailly draws some lovely opening chords from the Gewandhausorchester as Freire enters with nicely paced and phrased flourishes. There is a litheness to the orchestral playing with nicely done timpani support. Dynamics well controlled developing an underlying tension. When Freire re-enters there is a sense of stillness around the soloist as he brings a considered calm with beautifully nuanced playing, full of poetry. There are passages of vibrancy and passion set against the still, poetic passages and some lovely crystalline beauty. Freire has a beautiful touch, displaying so much delicacy. Yet he can be as dramatic as any when called upon and, indeed, moves from dramatic to poetic seamlessly. Later there are some terrific passages from Freire, full of brilliance and bravura and some terrific rising scales towards the coda.

There is a calm from the wonderful strings of the Gewandhausorchester as the Adagio un poco mosso arrives with Freire, when he enters, drawing so much gentle poetry from the music. The combination of Freire’s fine sensibility and touch and the lovely Gewandhausorchester sonorities is beguiling, gently and finely conceived, an oasis of calm. The finale has a finely poised entry into a beautifully sprung Rondo: Allegro with Chailly giving a lovely rhythmic lift to the Gewandhausorchester’s phrases. Freire’s sprung rhythms are beautifully phrased. Chailly and his orchestra are able to produce muscular playing yet tempered by sensitivity. This is a performance of many subtleties, contrasting poetry and drama. The piano is set slightly forward but not to the detriment of balance. Some details come strikingly through the orchestral texture.

With the C minor Piano Sonata Freire brings a resounding drama to the opening of the Maestoso with some lovely rounded phrases, soon offset by thoughtful poetry bringing out Beethoven’s darkness. He soon moves forward in the Allegro con brio ed appassionato Allegro with a thrust as he provides some terrific playing, full of fire and drama with fine phrasing, pacing and dynamics. Freire picks up on Beethoven’s jagged phrasing, rhythms and sudden mood changes so well.

Freire brings his withdrawn poetry to Beethoven’s slow finale Arietta: Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile though he gently picks up the tempo providing more of a flow with a lovely rise and fall. Freire moves so naturally into every variation, change of tempo and, indeed, mood. There are some formidably played passages, played with great clarity, seamlessly linked to the most poetic and sensitive of moments. Towards the end there are some gorgeous passages so sensitively and finely handled, with such a fine touch.

This performance of the last sonata has made me want to investigate Freire’s earlier recordings of Beethoven sonatas for Decca that includes the Moonlight, the Waldstein and les Adieux. Freire is nicely recorded with full tone and presence. The booklet notes take the form of an interview with Nelson Freire by James Jolly giving a brief insight into his ideas.

This release bodes well for a very fine and distinctive cycle from these artists.

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