Ludwig van Beethoven’s five piano concertos are monumental contributions to the Western Art Music canon, providing an overview of musical evolution through masterful compositions that have remained in the core repertory for over two centuries. Always an innovator and disruptor of established trends, these works trace Beethoven’s progression from traditional forms to increasingly original ones. For example, Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto, the “Emperor” begins with a piano-centric cadenza at a time when it was customary for the orchestra to play a lengthy introduction. Although this seems like a mildly interesting break from convention in the 21st century, such re-inventions were edge-of-your-seat moments for Beethoven’s audience.
Recorded during live performances at the 2022 Grand Teton Music Festival, located near Wyoming’s Rocky Mountain range, this complete set of Beethoven concertos features the festival’s orchestra conducted by the renowned Sir Donald Runnicles and pianist Garrick Ohlsson, a student of the late Claudio Arrau. This collection is decidedly level-headed, providing consistently reliable results, but also limiting the impact of climactic moments. These interpretations are charming, but perhaps lack the precipitousness and risk-taking that is required to turn them into something beautiful and breathtaking.
Despite its overall conservatism, there are some striking moments on this disc, including the glorious Adagio from the fifth concerto, in which the balance between winds and strings is notable, particularly for a live recording. Performing the complete set of Beethoven’s piano concertos is an expansive and impressive task, and this collection is well-suited for those seeking an all-encompassing survey of these magnificent works.