Beethoven's String Quartets are well known for their inventiveness. The mold of the string quartet form, established by Haydn, was shattered by Beethoven's profound expression and expansion of the "rules." Between 1999 and 2003, the renowned Pražák Quartet recorded all of the Beethoven string quartets, and this match of program and performers is one made in heaven.
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, his great Mass the Missa solemnis, and one opera, Fidelio…
“Emil Gilels stands out as giant among giants,” wrote Gramophone when the Odessa-born pianist died in 1985. “In terms of virtuosity he was second to none, yet his leonine power was tempered by a delicacy and poetry that few have matched and none has surpassed.” Beethoven was at the heart of Gilels’ repertoire and in 1968 he recorded this complete cycle of the composer’s piano concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra and its long-standing maestro, another musical titan of the era, George Szell.
Fans of either cellist Mstislav Rostropovich or pianist Sviatoslav Richter will have to hear the performances on this two-disc Doremi set. It contains the four pieces they performed in Moscow on March 1, 1950 Brahms' Sonata No. 1 and Beethoven's sonatas No. 3 and No. 4, plus the world premiere of Prokofiev's sonata and two of the pieces they played at the Aldeburgh Festival on June 20, 1964 Grieg's sonata as well as another Brahms' Sonata No. 1.
The Quartet's repertoire was centered on the Viennese classics, but with a serious emphasis on the 20th century. It was the stated goal of the quartet to include at least one modern work in each performance. Their repertoire spanned from Early Classicism, Romanticism, to the Second Viennese School (Berg, Schoenberg, Webern), Bartуk and embraced many contemporary composers. This took expression not the least in personal statements by composers like Witold Lutoslawski and Luciano Berio, of whom the former said: "Personally I am indebted to the Alban Berg Quartet for an unforgettable event. Last year in Vienna, they played my quartet in a way such as will never be likely equaled."
A must-have for collectors of sublime historical recordings, this re-release of Fournier and Gulda's 1960 recording is equally appropriate for listeners seeking their first recording of Beethoven's works for cello and piano. Fournier's commitment to the exploration of the Beethoven sonatas and variations is clear; he made three complete recordings of the works over the course of his career – the first with Artur Schnabel in 1947, this one with Friedrich Gulda in 1960, and finally with pianist Wilhelm Kempff in 1965.
Veteran Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder has turned in mid-career to live recordings, believing that the live situation makes possible a greater degree of spontaneity. In solo repertoire this has sometimes led him to follow his impulses into bold, unexpected interpretations. Here, in Beethoven's five piano concertos, there's less of an opportunity to color outside of the lines, even though Buchbinder serves as his own conductor (a tall order in Beethoven in itself). Yet his approach still works very well. He may deserve credit right off the bat for getting the sometimes recalcitrant Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to go along with what he's doing; the performances have a satisfying unity between soloist and orchestra.
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.