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Beethoven: The Piano Concertos And Choral Fantasy, Op. 80

Beethoven: The Piano Concertos And Choral Fantasy, Op. 80

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These Bavarian Radio recordings, first released in 2005, constitute Rudolf Serkin's third and final edition of the Complete Beethoven Piano Concertos, and were the only performances to be recorded in the concert hall, not in the studio. As such, they fittingly complete both his discography and his artistic legacy as one of the 20th century’s indisputably great pianists. This jewel case presentation, complete with booklet notes in German and English, is a re-release of the original 3-album box set that went out of stock following healthy sales.


For at least a half century Beethoven’s piano concertos played a central role in Rudolf Serkin’s repertoire. Yet out of all the Serkin Beethoven concerto cycles on disc, the present one, recorded over the course of three concerts in October and November of 1977, offers the most consistent artistic and sonic satisfaction.

The slightly distant yet attractively robust engineering conveys a cogent sense of concert hall-realism, and not just to the benefit of Rafael Kubelik’s superb Bavarian musicians. It also reveals Serkin’s elusive, difficult-to-record sonority in more flattering, three-dimensional light than the gaunt, often monochrome impression one gleans from his Columbia Masterworks sessions. As a result, the concentration and inner tension Serkin brings to the slow movements comes off with more warmth and sustaining power.

Although Serkin at 74 may not have been the impetuous, fiery virtuoso in the first three concertos’ finales that he was in his 40s, when he recorded them for CBS Masterworks, his technique nevertheless is still assured, alert, and responsive, and far more energized than in his relatively careful and labored collaborations with Ozawa.

However, Serkin must have drunk from the fountain of youth before hitting the stage for the Choral Fantasy (Kubelik, too, for that matter). The performance radiates inspiration from start to finish, highlighted by Serkin’s ardent yet cannily structured opening cadenza, the chamber episodes’ zestful give and take, plus massed choral and orchestral tuttis that at once communicate elemental power and textural clarity. Let’s hope this major addition to Serkin’s discography will encourage Sony not to leave its own complete Serkin edition hanging.

For all fans of the pianist and/or the conductor, this release is a must. (Jed Distler)

This recording of Serkin from 1977 highlights a 20th-century great who brought musical purpose and intellectual rigour to every detail. Serkin ranks among the greatest of 20th-century pianists; his repertoire ranged from Bach to Reger, but Beethoven was always at its very heart. In the autumn of 1977, in the Herkulessaal in Munich, he played all five Beethoven concertos as well as the Choral Fantasy in a series of concerts with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Rafael Kubelík, another musician who, like Serkin, always put himself at the service of the music. Recordings of those performances were first released on disc in 2005...their reissue now makes available again what is in every respect a historic musical document.

Serkin was never interested in ingratiating himself through honeyed phrases or silken tone. Instead in these interpretations there is musical purpose and intellectual rigor in every detail. Whether it’s the almost combative muscularity he brings to the piano’s first entry in the third concerto, or the instant authority of his torrential opening to the Emperor, it sets the tone for all that follows, constantly drawing equally intense responses from Kubelík and his superb orchestra. The accounts of the slow movements are just as remarkable; there’s a hymn-like calm to the Largo of the third, a consoling sweetness to the fourth’s exchanges between the soloist and the orchestra. All are in short, remarkable performances, not only among the finest available on disc, but further reminders of just how peerless a Beethoven interpreter Serkin was.

--The Guardian (Andrew Clements)

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 3
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Orfeo
    • UPC/Barcode: 4011790647036
    • Item Number: ORF-C220043