Beethoven In Buffalo

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

It may seem odd for the release of live Beethoven concerto performances featuring an American pianist, an American conductor, and an American orchestra to originate with Decca’s Korean branch. Be that as it may, the interpretations uphold Norman Krieger’s reputation for intelligent virtuosity and solid musicianship. Although the C minor concerto first-movement Allegro con brio lacks a true alla breve feeling, the pianist enlivens his contributions by keeping his rhythms steady (rigid, never) and making expressive points through articulation and tone color. The Largo’s long cantilenas are models of controlled freedom and proportion. The Rondo finale may lack the roguish, angular thrust of Fleisher or Serkin, yet these characteristics ultimately show up in the exhilarating coda.

Although Krieger underplays the “Emperor” concerto’s opening flourishes and could have dug more incisively into the chords in the solo following the orchestral ritornello, his playing becomes more expansive and imaginative as the movement unfolds (the beautiful phrasing of the second theme in the recapitulation, for example). Krieger’s slow-movement entrance approaches the time-stopping, cosmos-gazing legato patented in Emil Gilels’ classic recording with Leopold Ludwig and the Philharmonia Orchestra. However, the Rondo never really catches fire nor generates the kind of bracing momentum typifying interpretations so disparate as Uchida/Sanderling, Bronfman/Zinman, Ashkenazy/Solti, or even the idiosyncratic Michelangeli/Giulini edition.

For all of Krieger’s strong work, I often found myself focusing upon JoAnn Falletta’s steadfast, insightful support and the Buffalo Philharmonic’s remarkable playing. The strings sing out with pointed sweetness comparable to the postwar Vienna Philharmonic on their best behavior (I’m thinking about their Beethoven concerto cycle led by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt with soloist Wilhelm Backhaus), the first desk woodwind solos come characterfully alive, while Beethoven’s contrapuntal writing emerges with a chamber-like engagement from all concerned. Needless to say, Krieger and Falletta work well together in Beethoven, if not quite with the edge-of-seat excitement of their 2007 live Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 issued by VAI.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Op. 37: Rubinstein/Leinsdorf (RCA); Fleisher/Szell (Sony), Op. 73: Gilels/Ludwig (EMI); Uchida/Sanderling (Philips); Bronfman/Zinman (Arte Nova)

    Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op. 37; Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major Op. 73 (“Emperor”)
  • Norman Krieger (piano)
  • Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta

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