|Great art is news that stays news. Ezra Pound said it, and these recordings are breaking news. Plenty of benchmark recordings of Beethovens fab five are still around: Murray Perahia with Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw, Alfred Brendel with Rattle conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, and my longtime favourite Radu Lupu with Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic. One outstanding feature of this newest set is the balance of piano and orchestra staged in a big stereo sky. Kissins Steinway flashes in the LSOs velvety orchestral firmament like an animated zodiac portraying the full range and character of the composers imagination.
The musicianship of soloist and conductor are nicely matched in the first two concertos on Disc One. Beethovens youthful lyricism comes through side by side with his witty mockery of the galant style that was still gripping popular taste of his audience despite the advances of Haydn and Mozart. Piano Concerto No. 3 is a great performance. Kissin unleashes the fabled fiery virtuosity in his entrance to the first movement, but never overbalances the musical architecture that Davis subtly shades with his baton. If there is an overall flashiness to the performance, it is less about Kissin and more about Beethoven finding the weight of his own voice.
Kissins recordings of the Fourth and Fifth concertos do not replace the daring originality I find in Radu Lupus set. They have their own distinction a particularly live quality about them. Kissin, in this period of his maturity as a superhuman of pianism, seems at home in the anguished fibrillations of the slow movement. He is equally at home in the forceful grandeur of the Emperor. His handling of Beethovens cadenzas is magnificent. The Adagio is magically rich. Only time will tell whether this new roar from the Lion of the Keyboard will become news that stays news. Until that time, the Kissin/Davis/LSO is a highly recommended listen.
by Stanley Fefferman February 2009