BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos: Nos. 1–5 • Richard Goode (pn); Iván Fischer, cond; Budapest Festival Orchestra • NONESUCH 79928 (3 CDs: 167:47)
Iván Fischer’s Budapest Festival Orchestra plays with all the energy and power necessary to turn in spectacular performances of these Beethoven concertos. Richard Goode’s playing suits Fischer’s approach, and these two gifted musicians give us one of the most lyrical and powerful interpretations of the five piano concertos in the current catalogue. What separates these recordings from others that I admire — Rudolf Serkin’s clarity and precision and Murray Perahia’s thoughtful probity — is their unadulterated brio.
It’s surprising that this is Richard Goode’s first recording of the Beethoven piano concertos, all the more surprising when one recalls that in 1993 Goode released a complete set of Beethoven sonatas. It was this set that established the pianist as one of the greatest Beethoven interpreters of our time. Since the concertos are public display works and are not as technically or intellectually challenging as the sonatas, most pianists come to the concertos first, reserving for later the trilogy of late sonatas. There’s no doubt that Goode’s delay in recording these works led to the refined and nuanced readings by him and Fischer.
Goode’s keyboard technique and the clarity and balanced richness he draws from his instrument are astonishing. But these renditions are not about technique; they are about brilliant playing that never drowns out Fischer’s vision of the music. Artistic vision guides the pianist, not the other way around. Goode demonstrates that he can shape a phrase as well or better than Arrau, Brendel, or Pollini, all of whose recordings of these concertos offer their own rewards.
Fischer doesn’t force the music but lets it move along at its own pace, letting us hear the detailed inner-part writing. Fischer’s stock-in-trade as a conductor lies in matters of orchestral detail, a trait on full display throughout these recordings, which are beautifully captured in spacious sound, the mics never too close or too far way.
These remarkable performances do not disappoint. They are neither underpowered nor underplayed, but relaxed throughout. As a soloist, Goode is adept at engaging the orchestra rather than fighting it; as a conductor, Fischer has a knack for finding the beauty of this music and thus transforming these warhorses from rollicking and heavy-handed showpieces to music more lighthearted and genteel.
At least one reviewer states that the tempos of the first four slow movements are too fast. I disagree. Pianists have been playing these movements too slow for too many years. Fischer’s tempos are refreshing.
The above observation aside, these are essential recordings that won’t so much fill out a CD collection as stand as a cornerstone. This three-CD set will go a long way toward completing your understanding of the Beethoven concertos. Highly recommended. Tom Fasano