“It’s weird”, I thought, before listening to this album, “Mozart’s Concerto No. 24 and Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3 are very similar, but you rarely see them together on an album.” Then I listened and realized why: they are, in fact, so similar that playing them back-to-back creates a risk of burnout, even in performances as good as these.
They’re both in C minor. Their opening themes sound a little alike. They both trade in grand heroism, with plush slow movements and turbulent finales. Listening to them together, you get the very strong impression that Beethoven was keeping close to his source.
Yevgeny Sudbin helps this along by turning up the dial a little bit in the Mozart, and dialing a little back in the Beethoven. The cadenzas, which he wrote himself, provide the standout moments: the first Mozart cadenza is overtly Beethovenian, including, at 12:40, a deliberate quote of the opening melody from Beethoven’s third concerto. The Mozart finale’s cadenza includes a short (abortive?) fugue of Sudbin’s own devising, which is surprising and a little harsh, while the first-movement cadenza in the Beethoven concerto contains the most breathtaking playing on the whole CD.
The Minnesota Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä are perfect, almost too much so, reminding me of my criticism of these forces’ symphony cycle: that it sounds like Beethoven played by well-engineered robots. That cycle had many fans who will love this. I can say, though, that the woodwinds - particularly clarinets - make beautiful sounds in the Mozart larghetto, full of Viennese elegance.
Some critics have noted that Sudbin makes the simplest passages (runs, trills) into the greatest pleasures. This is true. His playing is so precisely voiced, and so crystal-clear, that it’s hard not to be enthralled by passages which, to other pianists, are the busy work. This alone would make the recording a standout. The cadenzas add interest, and most of you will probably like the coupling and orchestra more than I did. Recommended in the expectation that time will increase my appreciation for the musicianship here. (Brian Reinhart)