July 2007

Beethoven - Piano Concertos Nos. 1& 3
Mikhail Pletnev, Piano; Russian National Orchestra, Christian Gansch cond.
Deutsche Grammophon 477 6415
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Bill Brooks

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

There are many talented people now attempting to re-create the authentic way of playing on old instruments…But as an idea I find it ultimately self-defeating, because no great composer was ever satisfied with the instruments he had at his disposal.
-- Mikhail Pletnev

As part of his "Beethoven project," Pletnev recorded all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos live with the Russian National Orchestra (which he founded) at the 2006 Beethoven Festival in Bonn, Germany. What resulted are some of the most unique interpretations of Beethoven piano concertos available today.

Pletnev expresses no interest in playing Beethoven as it was performed "back in the day." He makes no apologies for his improvisational style, and why should he? Many of the great composers, including Beethoven, improvised while performing. What is important, is that a performer not use an improvisational style as an excuse for what is really a lack of control or technique. Pletnev clearly has plenty of both; he plays the notes. The way he manipulates volume and tempo may have you wondering, but never bored. For me, Beethoven has always meant drama, and Pletnev conveys that in spades.

There seem to be quite a few great live recordings out lately. Add this one to the list. The piano is immediate and explosive, yet never loses clarity. The sound of the RNO fills Beethovenhalle, and the spaciousness finds its way onto this disc. This release is definitely on the "most requested" list in my listening room.