Originally published on May 6

I started at the very end, with Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture, to get a feel for recorded sound and the orchestral playing: both excellent, Sir Donald setting a dignified opening against a bustling allegro, an appreciable entrée to Garrick Ohlsson and the five Piano Concertos, beginning (for me) with the ‘Emperor’, a majestic account with considered conducting, a lively orchestra, and fastidious solos from Ohlsson, an architect, a lyricist, and a dynamic purveyor of the notes, the sort of address that takes the listener into the music without performer artifice or intervention for its own sake; thus No.5 is essayed with character, a trust in – and a focus on – the music, and vivid communication, the well-balanced recording capturing enthusiastic camaraderie between the musicians and the resulting spontaneous music-making, the slow movement being especially sublime, and the Finale an exhilarating and rhythmically vital ride, nicely modulated along the way.

The B-flat Concerto – chronologically the first from Beethoven’s pen if the Second according to the publisher – receives a sparkling and shapely outing, here owing more to Haydn than to Mozart without diminishing Beethoven’s ‘new kid’ identity, so fresh in the outer movements (the Finale delightfully articulate and perky), so deep in the central one; and it’s similar for the C-major – second if First – while acknowledging its greater scope, the grandeur of the first movement, presented ideally by Runnicles, complemented by Ohlsson and then confirmed by him by unleashing the longest of Beethoven’s three cadenzas, displayed consummately; five minutes later the orchestra returns. The Largo is raptly expressed, lovely clarinet solos from Eugene Mondie, and the Finale is frolicsome, the jazzy episode high-spirited.

To C-minor, Concerto No.3, given with weight and gravitas by Ohlsson and Runnicles (only the other day I was searching YouTube for my first recording of it – Van Cliburn with Ormandy and his Philadelphians, RCA – I failed), absorbing in its momentousness, followed by a meditative Largo (Sue Heineman’s bassoon contributions require a mention) and a light-emitting Finale, so that when the end-of-tunnel coda is reached C-major is relishing its ascendency. There follows what is arguably the greatest of these works, No.4, one that can exude poetry and transcendence, if less so on this occasion, for Classical values apply, and also a certain toughness (perhaps exacerbated by the sound now being a little airless), initially disconcerting if developing a persuasive validity, with emotions overflowing in the more-usual of the composer’s brace of cadenzas. The second movement’s confrontation between brusque strings and pacifying piano is especially fine in its beast-taming imagery, and the Finale romps home joyously.

Throughout, not a note is out of place during these invigorating and searching readings (I assume some post-concert patching, not that my ear noticed any, although some high-pitched frequencies, akin to a hearing-aid, are evident; furthermore, aside from a few noises-off, the audience is sensed rather than being audible, applause removed) – a collection of performances that revive the appetite for these works while denying any notion that they can ever be taken for granted.

Captured live last July, Reference Recordings FR-751 [3 SACDs] is released on May 12.

RECORDED: July 5–July 9, 2022
RECORDING LOCATION: Walk Festival Hall, Teton Village, Wyoming
PRODUCER: Vic Muenzer
SOUND ENGINEER: Kevin Harbison
MASTERING ENGINEER: Graemme Brown, Zen Mastering