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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 3, No. 1 September 1997
Beethoven: Piano Concertos No. 3, No. 4 &No.5
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/ Andrew Davis
Anton Kuerti, piano

Analekta's 1996 digital remastering and re-release of Anton Kuerti's 1975 recording of Beethoven's sonatas and Diabelli Variations to critical acclaim seems to have stimulated CBC into re-issuing Kuerti's 1986 recordings of Beethoven's five piano concertos with the Toronto Symphony under its music director at the time Andrew Davis (they were originally available as a 3-disc box set but have been deleted for several years). Volume I was released last year and Volume II arrived in stores this summer just in time for Kuerti's marathon recital of the five Beethoven Concertos at the Lanaudière Festival. Having personally enjoyed Kuerti's majestically strong performances at the Lanaudière concert with the Orchestre Métropolitain conducted by Joseph Rescigno, I thought it would be interesting to see how Kuerti's decade-old recordings of the great cycle compared to that live performance.

Volume II: Piano Concerto No. 3 &No. 4. CBC Records SMCD 5179

Let me say right away that these concerto discs should please even the most discriminating collectors. Volume II opens with the first movement, Allegro con brio, of Concerto No. 3. Kuerti's playing is strong and well articulated. The cadenza's intensity is carefully balanced with the rest of the movement. At Lanaudière and on disc Kuerti lingered on the theme in the A sections of the final Rondo, giving it a reflective, less exuberant treatment than did Jon Kimura Parker (for example) last May with the McGill Chamber Orchestra. The tone of the piano used in these recordings in Toronto's Massey Hall (perhaps Kuerti's own instrument?) sounds less ringing and bright than the Yamaha he played at Lanaudière, though this may be due to recording engineering. Compared to Kuerti live at the Lanaudière amphitheatre, which has excellent natural acoustics, the piano sounds closely miked, but never to the point of distortion or imbalance. At Lanaudière, as on disc, the short middle movement (Andante con moto) of Piano Concerto No. 4 was ravishing. The Orchestre Métropolitain under Joseph Rescigno played gruffly and dominantly at first, in stark contrast to the piano's submissive but insistent role. By the end of the movement the piano had seduced the orchestra and they arrived at a beautiful agreement. The same effect is found less intensely on disc, suggesting that it is an interpretation Kuerti has decided to emphasize over the intervening ten years. The virtuositic performance of the last movement's finale brings the Rondo to an exciting and vivacious close. In general Kuerti gives the Fourth Concerto a more romantic treatment on disc than he did in concert.

Volume I: Piano Concerto No. 5. CBC Records SMCD 5155

This disc, containing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra Op. 80, and the King Stephen Overture, Op. 117 was released in 1996. The Fifth Concerto is not my favourite composition by Beethoven but it is undeniably a virtuoso showpiece and the Toronto Symphony matches Kuerti's crisp articulation every step of the way. The lyrical middle movement (Adagio un poco moto) is particularly memorable. Kuerti closed his Lanaudière marathon with the so-called "Emperor" concerto and his performance was all that could be expected after two hours at the keyboard. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir's delivery of Beethoven's Choral Fantasia comes across balanced and clear, full of gusto and conviction. In all of these recordings the Toronto Symphony gives an excellent account in superb sound. In general Kuerti's Beethoven piano concertos on CBC Records are surprisingly close to his Lanaudière performances: proof, if proof was needed, that Kuerti has had these works solidly in his repertoire for years. I have no doubt that Concertos No. 1 and No. 2, scheduled for autumn 1997 release, will be the icing on the cake of this excellent cycle. ­ Martin Kamela

(c) La Scena Musicale