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Not so long ago (2013), Maria João Pires recorded Beethoven’s Third and Fourth Concertos with the Swedish RSO and Harding on Onyx. Here, however, is Pires’ first recording on a period instrument – in this case, an 1849 Erard. Pires meets an interpretative match in her perfect partner, Frans Brüggen, and the results are simply magical. The performance is dedicated to the memory of Brüggen, who died in 2014 (a companion recording of Beethoven’s First Concerto with Argerich is also available on the NIFC label.)

Pires sits in the midst of the orchestra facing Brüggen, who is directly in front of her, enabling superb ensemble. The live element of the performance certainly adds frisson, but there are some corners that would certainly have been retaken in the studio, including some florid passages in the first movement cadenza. Nonetheless, the meeting of minds results in a performance of sheer vitality, and from that perspective it is in a different league from the Pires/Harding recordings.

The transparency of period instruments works to the Largo’s advantage (the bassoon in particular benefits), and Brüggen’s flowing tempo there seems perfect. The finale sparkles. One might be used to more weight and bite from the solo instrument’s bass on modern pianos, but the gains are infinite.

The accompanying documentary by Katarzyna Kasica and Stanislaw Leszczyński, centering on Brüggen, is fascinating, including footage of Pires and Argerich, as well as excerpts of Chopin on original instruments. More than just an ‘extra’, certainly, but it is Pires’ Beethoven that truly inspires and moves.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica


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