This week I am talking about the second recording by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes for his collection of complete Beethoven Piano Concertos entitled The Beethoven Journey. On the recording is Piano Concerto No 2 in Bb major and No 4 in G major. The great thing about the Beethoven Piano Concertos and what makes them such a 'must have' collection is that they are all very different and none more so than the two on this recording.
Piano Concerto No 2 in Bb major was actually the first concerto he wrote but the second to be published hence the reason it is called No 2, furthermore it was the first major orchestral work he wrote. First conceived when the composer was a teenager he continually revised it for years. In the end it became one of Beethoven's finest specimens of his early stage, although he disagreed because in 1801 he wrote "I don't consider it one of my best works".
Piano Concerto No 4 in G major is often over-shadowed by the huge and powerful No 5 but actually it is much more beautiful and it's power lies in the serenity and spirituality of the work, it is probably the most gentle of all his concertos. Due to his deafness Beethoven made his last appearance as a concerto soloist in the first public performance of this work where in a concert on 22nd December 1808 he also conducted his 5th and 6th symphonies and the Choral Fantasy, all of which also had their premieres.
Hitherto previous concertos had begun with the orchestra but in this concerto it is the soloist who sets things in motion with a soft, densely voiced dolce chord of G major, so simple and yet the most important chord in the whole work as it sets the scene. Infact the whole first phrase is arresting with its subtle rhythmic imbalance followed by the orchestras reply in a far removed minor key. The second movement is perhaps the concerto's most famous and is often thought to be Orpheus taming the wild beast with his music. In this movement the orchestra is loud, staccato, in stark octaves whereas the piano is soft, flowing, sublime and richly harmonised. After a passage where Beethoven almost convinces us he invented the trill, the orchestra finishes having learnt the piano's way. The final movement instead of being grand as was the norm, it is lyrical, witty, lush and rather Haydnesque.
Unfortunately there are no videos of Leif Ove Andsnes playing this work but on the following YouTube clip you can see Mitsuko Uchida who played it at a Prom in 2013. There is a very interesting interview with her beforehand where she talks about the piece. Then notice how long she takes to play that first chord, she is preparing herself mentally so that she gets that chord absolutely perfect. YouTube