Jan Lisiecki’s Beethoven Concertos

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

It seems that more and more pianists are angling to conduct Beethoven’s concertos from the keyboard, including Jan Lisiecki, who was 24 when Deutsche Grammophon recorded his cycle with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in December, 2018. Lisiecki clearly has the assurance and wherewithal to bring off such a feat, as revealed in the expertly dovetailed soloist/ensemble interplay in the Fourth and Fifth concertos. By contrast, the first three concertos’ opening movements seem underplayed, falling short of the incisive rhythmic definition and stylish brio one hears from Buchbinder, Ashkenazy, and Andsnes, among the top pianist-led editions.

Lisiecki also has the habit of imposing gratuitous diminuendos and often holds back at the top of a phrase, either delaying the final notes by a hair or unduly softening them. Such mannerisms invariably draw more attention to the pianist than to the composer. As such, he undermines the humor in the main theme of the Rondo in the First concerto, in contrast to Andsnes’ effective way of slightly pushing ahead in spots. The slow movements are beautifully played, yet generically detailed. One telling example concerns the character of the Fourth concerto Andante’s soloist/string section dialogue; here it sounds relatively generalized compared to the specificity of attack and release that Buchbinder elicits from the Vienna Philharmonic strings.

If you want the Beethoven concertos conducted from the piano, stick with Buchbinder/Vienna, Andsnes/Mahler Chamber Orchestra, and the underrated Ashkenazy/Cleveland Orchestra set.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bronfman/Zinman (Oehms Classics); Fleisher/Szell (Sony); Uchida/Sanderling (Philips); Berezovsky/Dausgaard (Simax)

  • Jan Lisiecki (piano)
  • Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Jan Lisiecki

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