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Alpha Classics have opted to release their new Beethoven piano concerto survey as separate issues. Volume 1, released last year, consisted of Nos 2 and 5 – a rather unlikely pairing of the weakest of the canonical five with the most powerful, where Beethoven burst the bounds of the concerto form. That said, pianist Martin Helmchen and conductor Andrew Manze made a virtue of the contrast with readings which, if not first choice accounts, were full of insight.

This new release is an easier pairing. There is much to admire once again in the playing, although I did not warm to the relaxed tempi in No 1: after the decisive opening tutti, the soloist’s first entry seems dismayingly off the pace. The Largo is beautifully poetic but in places risks losing impetus altogether. Matters are better in the finale, a true Allegro scherzando in name and spirit.

Alpha’s sound is bright and natural although not as expansive as it might have been. This works better in No 4, with its interplay of solo and tutti, intimacy and excitement, boldness and delicacy. The most perfect of Beethoven (or any other) piano concertos, it receives here a nicely shaped, if rather deliberate performance. The Andante con moto does not quite have the magic of Wallisch’s reading, and the finale is a touch earthbound.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica

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