The first thing to note about this issue is the considerable generosity in playing length enabling all five concertos to be accommodated on the one disc. Add to that the undisputed reputation of Barenboim over many years as a highly respected interpreter of Beethoven coupled with an equally respected orchestra and recording company and the whole package seems unbeatable. As has been normal for Barenboim for many years, he directs from the keyboard and this has a clear unifying effect on the interpretation being offered…
The presence of the young Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the decision by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes to conduct it from the keyboard may lead you to expect a smaller-scale performance than listeners actually get here, in this second album of Andsnes' "Beethoven Journey." Certainly this isn't keyboard-pounding Beethoven. The slow movement of the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, has none of the giant-stomping-around quality it often received in golden-age recordings.
Saint-Saëns’s mature creative genius shines throughout these last two piano concertos, looking back over a glorious musical ancestry while at the same time opening the door to new worlds. The Fourth Piano Concerto is prescient of both his great Organ Symphony and the concertos of Rachmaninov, revealing Saint-Saëns at his most inspired and innovative. The Fifth was composed in the Egyptian temple town of Luxor, and displays a rich tapestry of exotic cultural influences from Javanese, Spanish and Middle Eastern music, as well as portrayals of chirping Nile crickets and croaking frogs, and the composer’s representation of ‘the joy of a sea crossing’.
As Austrian pianist Till Fellner has aged, his performance style has naturally matured. This CD of Beethoven's Fourth and Fifth piano concertos shows Fellner is still impetuous but more commanding, still virtuosic but less demonstrative, and still playful but less prankish and more thoughtful. His touch is generally light, as in the Fourth's airy closing Vivace, and often legato, as in the Fifth's lyrical central Adagio, but he displays plenty of power in the Fourth's dramatic Andante and the Fifth's mighty opening flourish.
As smooth and delicious a performance of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto as has been released since the turn of the century, Ronald Brautigam's account of the work with Andrew Parrott and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra compares with Richter's for sparkle, with Pollini's for cleverness, and with Michelangeli's for liveliness. Brautigam's opening Allegro con brio has velocity and control, his central Largo expressivity and refinement, and his closing Rondo wit and whimsy.