Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2

The Piano Concerto No. 2 dates from a period when the young Beethoven was a concert pianist himself. In 1792 Beethoven had moved from Bonn to Vienna where musical careers (if not fortunes) were made. For the rest of the decade he was busy studying, performing and writing other piano music (notably the Pathétique sonata) as well as his first symphony, which was very much in the classical mode.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 is also Beethoven in classical mode, using an orchestra that would have suited a Mozart piano concerto equally well. What marks it out from other classical works of the time are the solo outbursts in each of the first two movements. In the first, a contrapuntal cadenza with exciting modulations takes us into new and more individual territory, in which the keyboard becomes absolutely the composer’s focus; in the second we are treated to some powerful, improvisatory solos. The last movement, a rondo with a highly rhythmic main theme in 6/8, manages to introduce a descending chromatic progression towards the end and closes with the piano oscillating rapidly between major and minor chords (a light hearted conclusion to the piece, but one which taxes every pianist).

This recording was made from performances given by Maria João Pires under Bernard Haitink in 2013. Haitink and Pires have developed a fine working relationship over the years, notably in Beethoven, and it shows here. Pires combines delicacy and boldness, delivering an interpretation that sits happily with any other in the catalogue. Haitink creates the perfect Beethovenian accompaniment to her playing, pointed, rhythmic and witty.

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