Beethoven Piano Concertos 3, 4 & 5 - BBC Online

Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra come to Beethoven's piano concertos trailing glory in their wake following a well-received symphony cycle in 2007 and last year's universally admired set of late Mozart symphonies.

Beethoven's last and pivotal piano concertos set their own strongly contrasted array of challenges for a musical partnership led by an 83-year-old conductor whose career began in the now long-distant era of 78s, and who is clearing relishing his Indian summer, and a soloist barely half his age whose own recordings of the Beethoven sonatas were praised for their ''re-creative energy and exuberance''.

Those qualities are also to the fore in these expansive but fleetly realised accounts of concertos that usher in the transition from ornamented classical daintiness to concentrated romantic drama.

Originally intended to include just the Third and Fourth Concertos, the addition of the Emperor was the happy result of Pizarro, Mackerras and his crack Scottish band powering through the original programme to leave time enough to capture the coupling. It's a mark of the journey they make, from the stormy, experimental sonorities of the Third to the majestic rhetoric of the Fifth via the tender lyricism of the Fourth that this turns out to be a remarkably coherent, hugely enjoyable offering rich in invention and altogether assured in execution.

These studio readings exult in the vital spontaneity and alert reciprocity more typical of a live performance. Pizarro's blend of perfectly proportioned poetry, dancing lyricism and muscular prowess calls to mind earlier performances by Kempff, Kovacevich and Gilels while bringing a fresh, questing dynamism all his own to bear. He negotiates the tempestuous currents of the Third with an almost insouciant nimbleness that serves the music's impetuous, truculent demeanour. In the Fourth, he is lullaby-tender and effusively lyrical yet manages to retain the darkly alluring gravity that underpins its nobility and poise.

Perhaps lacking just that last ounce of courage in the Fifth, Pizarro's reading is nonetheless lithe and lyrical, its outer movements solid and serious, the inner Adagio sweetly sung.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra play as to the manor born, Mackerras multi-faceted and magnificent, the recorded sound up to Linn's usual high standards.

04 May 2009