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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 ‘Emperor’ (1809)* ]39:35]
5 Variations in D major on ‘Rule, Britannia’ WoO79 (1803) [5:50]
Andante favori in F major WoO57 (1803) [9:52]
7 Variations in C major on ‘God Save the King’ WoO78 (1803) [9:34]
Bagatelles, Op, 119 (1820) [15:42]
Ingrid Jacoby (piano)
*Sinfonia Varsovia/Jacek Kaspszyk
rec. *20-21 November 2012, Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw; 11-12 November 1991, 18 February, 1992, Watford Town Hall (solo works). DDD
ICA CLASSICS ICAC5104 [80:46]

A few months ago I was impressed by recordings of Beethoven’s Second and Fourth Piano Concertos by the American pianist, Ingrid Jacoby (review). Now a recording of the mighty ‘Emperor’ concerto has arrived in which, once again, she’s joined by Sinfonia Varsovia and Jacek Kaspszyk.
 
I think that ICA Classics have been just a little bit naughty in their packaging. Emblazoned across the front of the booklet is a highly enthusiastic comment attributed to International Record Review. The innocent purchaser might reasonably conclude that the comment applies to this disc but, in fact, it doesn’t; it is an extract from the review in that magazine by Robert Matthew-Walker of the previous release in the series, the coupling of concertos two and four, though that’s not made clear. Although there’s a good deal to enjoy in Miss Jacoby’s account of the ‘Emperor’ concerto I don’t think it’s of sufficient stature to have Mr Matthew-Walker’s comment, taken out of context, linked to it.
 
It’s possible to take one of two views about the first movement of the concerto. If you applaud energy and drive in Beethoven then you may well like the momentum that Jacek Kaspszyk brings to the long orchestral passage that follows the opening flourish. However, I feel that the music demands just a bit more breadth than it receives here; there’s no real sense of grandeur. This brisk basic tempo persists throughout the movement though quite frequently the speed is modified momentarily to enable an expressive point to be made; I’m not always comfortable with these instances of slowing down. Miss Jacoby displays a lot of clean fingerwork but as the movement unfolded I came to feel increasingly that this is a performance in which no real depths are plumbed either by the soloist or the conductor. Rather, one has the impression of surface brilliance at the expense of rhetoric or thoughtfulness. I wonder if that impression is enhanced by the sound, especially that of the piano, which came across as rather bright on my equipment. I’m very much afraid that at the end of the movement my overriding impression was one of technical accomplishment but a somewhat superficial interpretation.
 
The second movement is nicely shaped and graceful but, once again, when the music attained a loud volume the piano sound seemed bright, almost brittle, to my ears. I had the impression that this movement is viewed by these artists as an easeful nocturne-like movement between Beethoven’s two big allegro movements. That’s a defensible point of view but I think other pianists have found more in this serene adagio. The finale finds Beethoven in good spirits and this performance has a good spring in its step. Leaving aside the brightness of the sound - which may not be an issue on other collectors’ equipment - I think this is the most successful movement of the three in this performance.

The disc is filled out with performances of some shorter pieces which Miss Jacoby recorded over twenty years ago - I don’t know if they’ve been issued before. None of these works represent Beethoven at his most profound but all are worth hearing. The brief Theme and Variations on ‘Rule, Britannia’ - not one of the movements lasts longer than 1:30 - are pleasant and clever. They represent Beethoven in lighter mood and they’re well done here. Miss Jacoby also does the ‘God Save the King’ Variations successfully. These are equally pithy and it’s only in the last variation that we find a movement longer than 1:30. Yet even within such short time spans Beethoven can be clever and inventive. The eleven Bagatelles, though from much later in his career, are again very brief - the tenth one plays for a mere eighteen seconds in this performance. They were written, at the request of a friend, for a piano tutor and even in such a context Beethoven was incapable of turning out music that was not original and well crafted. The Andante favori, originally intended for the ‘Waldstein’ Sonata, is the most substantial of these solo pieces and Ingrid Jacoby offers a graceful performance.
 
Inevitably, purchasers will acquire this disc first and foremost for the concerto and though this performance has its merits it would be idle to pretend that there are not many better and more profound alternatives on the market. I don’t think that this disc matches the quality of its predecessor. Having said that, I shall be interested to hear the final instalment in this cycle, which will feature the First and Third concertos. Added interest in that release will stem from the fact that Ingrid Jacoby is a direct descendant of the Prussian Prince Louis Ferdinand, the dedicatee of the Third concerto.
 
John Quinn 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven Piano concerto 5

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