Saturday, January 29, 2011

Eschenbach, BSO & Ozawa – Beethoven's Emperor Concerto

Among many musical projections some don’t even have anything unusual but still are nice and enchanting. Even pieces of minor importance can be revealed in surprising light. But it is worth to remember the great works give artist more chance to realize any vision they need. There are dozens of perfect performances of every great 19th century composition and Fifth Piano Concerto E-Flat Major op. 73 (also known as Emperor) by Ludwig van Beethoven undoubtedly is the one of most inspiring works in classical catalogue. And as the pure consequence of its value, Emperor Concerto is played by almost every notable pianist.
Between great renditions, one of the best and totally underestimated is modest recording made in 1974 by Christoph Eschenbach with Boston Symphony Orchestra led by Seiji Ozawa. Born 1940 in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland), heavily experienced in his childhood, Christoph Eschenbach was studying and developing his musical career as pianist and conductor. Numerous successes he achieved as a pianist, winning competitions, concerting and recording with the best orchestras. In 1964 he signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. Being concerting pianist he started conductor apprenticeship with George Szell. His mentor was Herbert von Karajan.  Today he is prominent personality in musical world. He is known mainly for his conducting skills as a leader of orchestras, anyway thank to recordings we can recognize him also as the master interpreter of the piano music.

View of Heiligenstadt on Emperor Concerto cover 

Eschenbach’s interpretation is more profound in style and more stable in construction than vast majority of others. In it’s formal credibility it can compete with famous recording of Emperor Concerto by Glenn Gould and Leopold Stokowski. Christoph Eschenbach is achieving this effect by accuracy of phrases and precise graduating dynamics over the span of the whole work. The side effect of such assumption is elevation of opening cadenzas. Orchestral exposition has its peasant joyous enthusiasm while piano came with more solemn second exposition. What is happening later is a consequence of this contrariety. Transformations in development lead to reprise with series of cadenzas where orchestra and piano are consolidating and gathering strength.
Because he is consistently balancing proportions between precision and expression, the second part Adagio un poco mosso is more elegiac than dreamy. Still strong, even in pianissimo it is soulful vision of the middle part. Concluding Rondo is opposite to the first part. This time roles of soloist and orchestra swung aside. The piano is joyous and vigorous and orchestra gives him foundations and support. Again comparing to Gould’s recording, Eschenbach and Ozawa are accenting perfectly sixth to eighth, while Gould and Stokowski loosing accent, let themselves fall into straight waltzing. And this is why without doubts I am choosing this recording. Boston Symphony Orchestra sounds like one instrument and Seiji Ozawa with Christoph Eschenbach are the pillars of perfect lineup. Soulful and perfect rendition of piano concerto that is one of the best in history of music.

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