Beethoven: Piano Concerto Op. 61a; Mozart K 459/Serkin

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 9

Beethoven expended little effort over arranging his Violin Concerto for piano. He left the orchestration intact, reproduced the solo part more or less verbatim, and added just enough left-hand accompaniment to keep the soloist interested. Although he didn’t provide cadenzas for the violinist, Beethoven left the pianist four from which to choose, including a wild fantasia that culminates in petulant exchanges between piano and timpani. Perhaps this concoction always will remain a curio, yet a few recent recordings elevate Op. 61a to a genuine work of stature–most notably the stylish, virile, and committed Suk/Baley (TNC) and Berezovsky/Dausgaard (Simax). So does this remarkable 1969 Peter Serkin/Seiji Ozawa collaboration, but in a completely different manner.

They consistently emphasize breadth and lyricism, and justify their uncommonly slow first-movement tempo by virtue of focused, impeccably accented phrasing that is rhythmically precise yet so vibrant and full-bodied that nothing ever sounds static or rigid. Certainly the robust sonics help, along with the New Philharmonia Orchestra’s warm, responsive, and songful execution. It’s all too easy for a pianist to reduce the sparse piano writing to surface tinkling, yet even Serkin’s most delicate nuances and rounded cadences convey firmness and a sure sense of direction–all the more reason to welcome’s on-demand reissue of this long overlooked and underrated recording in a rare Japanese RCA reprint. You can obtain it coupled with the Serkin/Ozawa Schoenberg Piano Concerto, or as here: alongside the pianist’s sparkling, cultured, and wittily nuanced Mozart F major K. 459 concerto, featuring like-minded support from the English Chamber Orchestra under Alexander Schneider’s shapely and sensitive direction. Booklet notes are in Japanese only, but given such revelatory music making, who cares?

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Beethoven: This one, Berezovsky/Dausgaard (Simax)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN - Piano Concerto in D major Op. 61a
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART - Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major K. 459

  • RCA - 35125
  • CD

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