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It has taken until Pires’ 70th year for her to record these works, touchingly dedicated to the memory of Claudio Abbado (with whom Pires recorded). From her side, everything is as it should be; but the decision to record with the Swedish forces under Harding was a miscalculation. While Pires interprets calling on a lifetime’s worth of experience, Harding cannot muster the same level of attunement to these scores.

The gap between them is visceral – while Harding’s orchestral exposition for the Third Concerto is expert, it remains rather workaday and it is only when Pires enters that the music moves up into a different league. Inevitably, Pires’ Third is not of the barn-storming variety, and nothing is for overt display. Her major achievement is in the standard Beethoven cadenza, where she convinces the listener this is still major- league Beethoven. Similarly, she finds an oasis of interior calm in the central Largo, where Harding and his forces are more literal. If the orchestra finds more fire in the finale, it is Pires who is magnificent in pearly tone, wit and clarity.

The Fourth Concerto could have been written for Pires. Her opening statement is pure beauty; throughout, she refuses to linger, yet it all unfolds perfectly. Pires opts for the first of Beethoven’s cadenzas, beautifully managed. Her mastery climaxes in the finale, where she matches the orchestra’s fire, then interiorises the energy in an instant. This is remarkable Beethoven playing. If only soloist and orchestra had been evenly matched, it would have been a clear five stars.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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