Beethoven's Fourth revisited

Critic's choice: Classical music

November 21, 1999|By Stephen Wigler

There are more than 70 recordings of Beethoven's Fourth Concerto currently available. Make room at the top for Helene Grimaud's new account of the piece, recorded live with Kurt Masur conducting the New York Philharmonic (Teldec 3984-26869).

I think this is the most exciting interpretation of the Fourth Concerto since the Vladimir Ashkenazy-Georg Solti collaboration with the Chicago Symphony -- and that was recorded almost 30 years ago!

Without eschewing lyricism, Grimaud and Masur strive for drama, and they achieve it thrillingly. The contrast between the personalities of soloist and conductor bring new insights into this familiar score, especially in the famous interplay of voices in the slow movement, where Masur's gruff boldness contrasts so tellingly with Grimaud's melting responses. Strength and spontaneity distinguish the outer movements: heroic drive coupled with majestic spaciousness in the first; exciting volatility, grounded in firmly pointed rhythms, in the finale.

Grimaud fills out the disc with superb performances of Beethoven's Sonatas Nos. 30 (Opus 109) and 31 (Opus 110). I do not know of another pianist who surpasses the inner repose she achieves in the slow movement of Opus 109 or the fury with which she storms the heights, without a hint of percussiveness, in the closing fugue of Opus 110.

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