Robert Levin (fortepiano) and friends

Piano Concerto No 4 (Beethoven)
Symphony No 2 (Beethoven)

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TPT 1: 07: 29

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

Here’s something for the collector of musical curiosities: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4 in G in a version for fortepiano and string quintet as well as the same composer’s Symphony No 2 in an arrangement for fortepiano, violin and cello with Robert Levin at the keyboard. All the string players are members of the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique.

Levin does wonders with the scores. In the concerto, astoundingly nimble fingerwork, a superbly spun trill and a commanding address that sweeps all before it, result in playing that is utterly persuasive. This is a rare opportunity to hear Beethoven’s Concerto No 4 in a chamber version that had the Master’s stamp of approval. Beethoven himself made more than eighty changes to the piano part in the outer movements alone (in the process making an already difficult keyboard part even more demanding on the soloist) and entrusted a friend with the task of reworking the orchestral part of the concerto for string quintet..

Much of the first movement is couched in powerfully dramatic terms and Levin and friends do wonders in unbottling its passionate genie. The slow movement is a compendium of marvels, with the keyboard’s gentle, arpeggionated responses to the assertive gruffness of the accompanying strings beautifully considered. This is wonderfully introspective playing ­ until the moment when Levin commences the movement’s extended trill which comes across with all the urgency and intensity of a blaring klaxon.

For all those who delight in the insouciant, peekaboo quality of the finale, this recording will not disappoint. As well, there is a cadenza on an heroic scale. Strings sound close-miked; there’s a rasping, grainy quality as bows bite strings. It makes for bracing listening.

The purists may well wax apopletic at the notion of Beethoven’s
2nd Symphony being played in a version for piano, violin and cello. But this, in fact, is an arrangement prepared by the composer himself. The first movement bristles with energy and drive thnat make for frankly thrilling listening. And in the scherzo, sforzandi are attacked with a relish that sweeps all before it.

Levin’s astonishing technical prowess is well to the fore here with virtuosic treatment of rapid repeated notes. And he’s a key player in evoking the robust, back-slapping humour of the writing.

The recordings were made in London’s Henry Wood Hall.

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