By the age of 40, Beethoven had completed all his piano concertos. He sketched bits of a sixth at 45, but gave up, presumably because he could no longer trust what was left of his hearing to perform it himself; so there are no visionary late concertos to match the Ninth Symphony or last quartets. Stephen Hough and his conductor Hannu Lintu appear mindful of this in their fresh approach to these scores.
Hough’s individualities of phrasing and subtleties of pedalling are all contained within a relatively Classical sense of order. He brings splendour to the greater grandiosity of the Emperor Concerto, but never seems tempted to inflate it into a prototypical Rachmaninov as some of his eminent predecessors have. Lintu steers a judicious course between Romantic indulgence and ‘authentic’ briskness in his choice of tempos and draws crisp, bright textures from what sounds like relatively modest orchestral forces.
Two slight caveats. The piano sounds as if miked slightly closer than the orchestra, and in the last two concertos some of the highest piano notes ping suspiciously as if not quite in tune. No matter: your reviewer found himself so absorbed by the renewed freshness and inventiveness of scores he thought he knew all too well, that he forgot he was supposed to be ‘objectively’ appraising their interpretation.