BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 (Barry Wordsworth/ Capella Istropolitana/ Martin Sauer/ Stefan Vladar) (Naxos: 8.550122)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Concerto No.3 in C Minor, Opus 37
Piano Concerto No.4 in G Major, Opus 58
In the last month of 1792 Beethoven arrived in Vienna, the city inwhich Mozart had died in straitened circumstances the year before. He came withintroductions to important patrons and with the support of his employer, theArchbishop of Cologne, a son of the old Empress Maria Theresa, having alreadywon considerable praise in Sonn as a pianist. In 1787 Beethoven had come toVienna for lessons with Mozart, but had had to return home on news of hismother's fatal illness. Now he took lessons from Haydn, from the Court ComposerSalieri and from Albrechtsberger, who was to become Kapellmeister at St.
Beethoven enjoyed great success in these early years in Vienna,welcomed by society, always in search of some novelty. In the closing years ofthe century, however, he experienced the first signs of approaching deafness,the disability that was to isolate him from other men and drive him moreexclusively to composition, as his performance became less and less tolerable.
Between the years 1794 and 1809 Beethoven w rote seven concertos, fiveof them for his own principal instrument, the pianoforte, one for violin andone for a solo group of violin, cello and piano. The third concerto for piano,in C minor, was written in 1800, the period of composition of the firstsymphony and the first set of string quartets. The fourth piano concerto,written in part while the composer was at work on his opera Fidelio, was completed in 1806, by whichtime three more symphonies had been composed, as well as the RazumovskyQuartets.
The C minor Piano Concerto, which recalls in key and conception, aswell as in its opening theme, the great C minor concerto of Mozart, was firstperformed in Vienna by Beethoven in one of those impossibly long programmeswhich he seemed to favour. In this case the oratorio Christus am Oelberg (Christ on the Mount of Olives) wasgiven, with the first two symphonies, rehearsed by an increasingly disgruntledorchestra from eight o'clock in the morning, until the composer's patron,Prince Karl Lichnowsky, called for a break and provided picnic refreshments.
Beethoven's pupil Ferdinand Ries left an account of this first performance ofthe concerto, in 1803, and of his own appearance as soloist in the concertolater in the same year, under Beethoven's nominal direction. It was for Riesthat the solo piano part was first committed to paper.
The imposing first movement, with its impressively strong first themeand contrasting subject of calm intensity are announced first by the orchestra,before the entry of the soloist with aversion of the two themes on which themovement is built. The slow movement has one of those themes of protractedbeauty of which Beethoven was a master. The E major theme is introduced firstby the soloist, who opens the final rondo with a principal melody of boldoutline. The movement is broadly conceived and contains striking moments ofcontrapuntal invention and a rapid closing section that transforms the two mainthemes.
There were more extreme misjudgements of planning in the concert in1808 at which the Piano Concerto in G
was first played. The Burgtheater had been engaged for an important charityconcert on the same evening, so that Beethoven made use once more of thesuburban Theater-an-der-Wien, that had opened in 1801 under the management ofEmanuel Schikaneder, author of The Magic Flute. Here the audience was obligedto sit in a bitterly cold auditorium - the month was December from half-pastsix until half-past ten, and that at a time in the history of music when thepatience of audiences had not yet been tried by the Gargantuan works of laternineteenth century symphonists. The programme included the Pastoral Symphony,an Italian scena, shivered through by a cold soprano, the Gloria from the Massin C, the new piano concerto, the FifthSymphony (described by a member of the audience as very elaborateand oo long), the Sanctus from the Mass,a Fantasy for solo piano and the Choral Fantasia. The last item, asunder-rehearsed as much of the rest of the programme, brought catastrophicconfusion.
Johann Friedrich Reichardt, former Kapellmeister to Frederick theGreat, whose opinion of the Fifth Symphony has already been quoted, describedthe piano concerto as terribly difficult, but allowed that Beethoven playedastonishingly well, in the fastest possible tempi, praising in particular thesinging tone that the composer elicited from the piano in the slow movement.
The concerto opens, contrary to the general practice of the time, witha brief statement of part of the first subject by the soloist. The orchestralexposition follows, after which the soloist is heard again, in a more elaboraterole, which is maintained in a movement of imposing conception.
The relatively short E minor slow movement, in which Liszt imaginedOrpheus taming the Furies by his music, has all that deep serenity thatBeethoven knew so well how to conjure. A brief introduction by the stringsleads to the entry of the soloist, a pattern that is then repeated. Themovement is scored only for piano and strings.
The second movement is linked to the third by a brief passage ofsingular poignancy, allowing the discreet entry of the orchestra in the finalrondo, quickly dispelling the previous mood with a principal theme of cunningharmonic originality. There are episodes of a more serious cast to come in amovement in which traditional optimism finally prevails.
The Austrian pianist Stefan VIadar was born in 1965 and started pianolessons at the age of six. From 1973 he studied at the Vienna University forMusic and Arts with Renate Kramer-Preisenhammer and Hans Petermandl. Afterwinning a number of awards in piano competitions in Austria, including thefirst prize in the Rudolf Heydner Piano Competition, he took the first prize inthe 1985 International Beethoven Competition, the youngest of the 140competitors.
Stefan Vladar's subsequent career has brought him a busy schedule ofengagements, with performances throughout Europe and appearances in China,Thailand, Japan and Korea, as well as in the United States of America.
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the SlovakPhilharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as anorchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based inBratislava, its name drawn from the ancient name still preserved in theAcademia Istropolitana, the historic university established in the Slovak andone-time Hungarian capital by Matthias Corvinus, the orchestra worksprincipally in the recording studio. Other recordings by the orchestra in theNaxos series include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertosand Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik.
Barry Wordsworth's career has been dominated by his work for the RoyalBallet which started when he played the solo part in Frank Martin's HarpsichordConcerto, which was the score used by Sir Kenneth MacMillan for his ballet, Las Hermanas. In 1973 he became AssistantConductor of the Royal Ballet's Touring Orchestra and in 1974 PrincipalConductor of Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet. He made his debut at Covent Gardenconducting MacMillan's Manon in1975 and since then has conducted there frequently. He has toured extensivelywith the Ro