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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ludwig van Beethoven
"Piano Concertos Nos. 4-5"
Alpha Productions (2005)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die

Ours is a culture that has gotten used to the remix. The most popular genre for the act is hip-hop, where dozens of artists will release their own version of a popular single. Many fans are dismayed when they buy an album, only to find out that the radio version of a song they love is actually a remix of the original track. Of course, rock has remixes as well, and the improvisation inherent in jazz makes every playing of a song a remix of sorts. The last place people look for remixes is the classical scene, but as Moon explains for this version of Beethoven's fourth and fifth piano concertos, we've been remixing them for years.

Music like this wasn't often performed in grand concert halls as it is today. Generally, it was performed privately for parties at the homes of the composer's benefactor. Needless to say, Beethoven didn't take 100 performers, such as the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, with him when he performed. Realistically, such pieces were performed by somewhere around 20 musicians. Another major difference is that modern concert pianos are generally grands, while such an instrument didn't exist during the Baroque era. Beethoven, rather, played a fortepiano.

Pianist Arthur Schoonderwoerd and the Ensemble Cristofori aim to perform a true "cover" of Concertos Nos. 4 and 5, not a remix. The Ensemble is "small" relative to its bigger brothers and Schoonderwoerd is true to the era, playing a fortepiano.

Much of the noticeable difference between this and the version we previously looked at, as performed by Rudolf Serkin, is in the choice of piano and the piano player. The output between a Steinway grand and a fortepiano is more evident than you might think. Imagine the playing of Serkin from the last recording we heard, and then imagine the sound of an upright piano (you know; the pianos always being banged in a prototypical western saloon). The former is as smooth as it gets, and the latter jingles like a security guard's keys. The fortepiano is closer to the former, but it holds more than a hint of that jingling tone.

Moon argues that the smaller ensemble allows a better "discussion" between the piano and orchestra, but I'm not sure I agree. A group of 20 might be smaller than a group of 100, but the fortepiano is also more subdued than a grand, and therefore doesn't rise above its accompaniment. Schoonderwoerd, God bless him, is also not on Serkin's level. He's qualified, but the fluidity of Serkin's playing is something to be marveled at.

You'll be glad, as I was, that these two interpretations of Beethoven's fourth and fifth are noticeably different. To be honest, I'm a little torn between which version I like better. Serkin's talent is impressive, but there's something to be said about the scaled down performance of the Ensemble Cristofori.

INTERESTING FACT: The Ensemble Cristofori is probably named after Bartolomeo Cristofori, and Italian harpsichord-maker who is credited as the inventor of the fortepiano.

"Piano Concertos Nos. 4-5" (Today you get the whole performance, because that's the only link I could find. Lucky you!)

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