Pletnev's Beethoven Concertos

Beethoven: The Five Piano Concertos
Mikhail Pletnev, Russian National Orchestra, Christian Gansch
DG 5CDs 477 7475

It would be difficult to think of a pianist more attuned to the burning lust for life at the heart of Beethoven's early and middle-period music than Mikhail Pletnev. These live recordings of the five piano concertos, initially released as three separate discs, were made at the Beethovenfest in Bonn 2006 and are now issued as a
complete set to complement the first leg of Pletnev's ambitious Beethoven project, his recording of the nine symphonies with the Russian National Orchestra - for my money one of the most exciting Beethoven symphony cycles of recent years.

The same deftness and responsiveness that gave the symphony performances such dark fire is displayed here in the concertos. And though conducted by Christian Gansch there is no doubt that it is Pletnev's vision of the works to which they are principally responding, for the pianist – despite his apparent best efforts –
never quite manages to leave them behind. Indeed, for a live recording, both in terms of the evenness of the sound – balanced firmly toward Pletnev's Bl├╝thner's inner reaches – and unity of performance you would think these had been prepared over several days in studio conditions. Only the very occasional rumble marks the
presence of digital fiddling to mask extraneous audience or soloist noise.

The cadenzas are predictably full of delights, but the lyrical passages – for example of the slow movements of the second and fourth concertos – also show that Pletnev's improvisatory habits are well in tune with what Beethoven's must have been. The many bravura passages of in the fifth and first concertos are breathtaking, cascades of notes sparkling with all the clarity of sunlight reflected in a waterfall, and the darker tones the crisscross all the works are well brought out by pianist and orchestra alike.

For anyone who has forgotten just how exciting these concertos can be, this set is a must.

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