Beethoven at his grandest, and then at his most searching . . . Nelson Freire in superb form. The Concerto receives a bracing outing, Freire benefiting from a wonderfully prepared and vividly detailed accompaniment from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Riccardo Chailly, and the recording is well-balanced, the piano not too close and with plenty to be heard from the orchestra. It's a dynamic performance, the first movement exuberant and energised, but with melting lyricism too distilled with a quiet inwardness that catches the senses. The result is that such ubiquitous music is refreshed and enjoys enlivened interplay. Freire's selfless but characterful playing is especially tender in the starlit slow movement, lovingly spacious, led-off by honeyed string-playing and responded to by Freire in a way that melts the heart. By contrast, the finale has a joyous bounce, eager yet poised. Very simply, this is a marvellous account of the 'Emperor'. So too Opus 111, full of rhetoric, suspense, drive and deep musical consideration. Freire is a cultured musician who has searched the music without draining it of spontaneity. In the second (and last) movement, the 'Arietta' (a theme and variations), he keeps things on the move and is structurally inevitable while keeping intact its spiritualism and vision. In short this is a compelling reading informed by much wisdom to complete an impressive release.
. . . a fine, clear, passionate recording of some of the most beautiful music ever written . . . it's the Allegro movement that we enjoy the most . . . [Piano Sonata No 32]: a further showcase to Nelson Freire's extraordinary talents. Overall, we enjoyed this recording very much. Nelson Freire and Riccardo Chailly are a natural pairing, and for a thoroughly decent recording of one of Beethoven's best-loved concertos, with the added bonus of a contrasting sonata, this album has a rewarding variation of moods and a balance between piano solo and piano with orchestral accompaniment.
If two musicians could put a new shine on Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, the "Emperor", it was a good bet they would be pianist Nelson Freire and conductor Riccardo Chailly . . . [Freire's playing] is marvellously lucid and imaginative. Together, he and Chailly banish the pompous air that often stifles performances of the "Emperor" and replace it with a fresh, keen atmosphere with glimpses of a radiant, cloudless sky. Freire's filler, a luminous performance of Beethoven's Op. 11 Piano Sonata, is no less absorbing.
. . . [Beethoven 5 / 1st movement]: Chailly draws some lovely opening chords from the Gewandhausorchester as Freire enters with nicely paced and phrased flourishes. There is a litheness to the orchestral playing with nicely done timpani support. Dynamics well controlled developing an underlying tension. When Freire reenters there is a sense of stillness around the soloist as he brings a considered calm with beautifully nuanced playing, full of poetry. There are passages of vibrancy and passion set against the still, poetic passages and some lovely crystalline beauty. Freire has a beautiful touch, displaying so much delicacy. Yet he can be as dramatic as any when called upon and, indeed, moves from dramatic to poetic seamlessly. Later there are some terrific passages from Freire, full of brilliance and bravura and some terrific rising scales towards the coda. There is a calm from the wonderful strings of the Gewandhausorchester as the "Adagio un poco mosso" arrives with Freire, when he enters, drawing so much gentle poetry from the music. The combination of Freire's fine sensibility and touch and the lovely Gewandhausorchester sonorities is beguiling, gently and finely conceived, an oasis of calm. The finale has a finely poised entry into a beautifully sprung "Rondo: Allegro" with Chailly giving a lovely rhythmic lift to the Gewandhausorchester's phrases. Freire's sprung rhythms are beautifully phrased. Chailly and his orchestra are able to produce muscular playing yet tempered by sensitivity. This is a performance of many subtleties, contrasting poetry and drama. The piano is set slightly forward but not to the detriment of balance. Some details come strikingly through the orchestral texture. With the C minor Piano Sonata Freire brings a resounding drama to the opening of the "Maestoso" with some lovely rounded phrases, soon offset by thoughtful poetry bringing out Beethoven's darkness. He soon moves forward in the "Allegro con brio ed appassionato" with a thrust as he provides some terrific playing, full of fire and drama with fine phrasing, pacing and dynamics. Freire picks up on Beethoven's jagged phrasing, rhythms and sudden mood changes so well. Freire brings his withdrawn poetry to Beethoven's slow finale "Arietta: Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile" though he gently picks up the tempo providing more of a flow with a lovely rise and fall. Freire moves so naturally into every variation, change of tempo and, indeed, mood. There are some formidably played passages, played with great clarity, seamlessly linked to the most poetic and sensitive of moments. Towards the end there are some gorgeous passages so sensitively and finely handled, with such a fine touch . . . This release bodes well for a very fine and distinctive cycle from these artists.
. . . [Piano Concerto no. 5]: their approaches prove to be complementary. Freire is lyrical and supple, always letting the line flow. Chailly offers more drama, drawing a focused tone from the orchestra, and always propelling the music in the faster sections. The Gewandhaus Orchestra also fits well into the equation. The strings provide the ideal support for Freire, matching the smoothness and intensity of his piano tone, just as intense but just as nimble too. The woodwind soloists are another of the orchestra's great strengths, and although their solos are only ever short here, each comes through with character and individuality. The "Adagio" second movement is a particular treat. Freire's tone sounds completely effortless, as if he is just breathing through the piano. Yet he has enough presence to carry across the orchestra without the players having to restrain from their elegantly shaped phrasing . . . [Piano Sonata no. 32]: Freire gives another lyrical, flowing performance, making what in other hands can seem a complex and intellectual work into an exercise in grace and elegance. It's seductive and beguiling, and the work's complex structure is well served by the pianist's narrative approach, leading the ear through the various sections and always offering logical connections from one to the next. The opening of the second movement is magical. Here, for a few minutes, time seems to stop, as Freire draws out the "Adagio" melody with little concern for pulse or tempo. Then, as Beethoven elaborates the theme into a series of variations, Freire gradually brings us back down to earth, imposing discipline and pace, but still maintaining the elegance of his tone and line.
The acquaintance of Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire with the work of Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most fruitful familiarities in Classical Music . . . This new recording with Leipzig's treasured Gewandhausorchester and Riccardo Chailly is the zenith of a lifetime's affection . . . it is a performance shaped by intimate communication among music and musicians. It would be ridiculous to suggest that Mr. Freire "speaks" with Beethoven, but his playing on this disc undeniably enables Beethoven to speak to the listener. In this performance, Maestro Chailly and the gifted instrumentalists of the Gewandhausorchester . . . bring an astonishing consistency of approach to Beehoven's music, creating a charged atmosphere in which Mr. Freire's playing is like bursts of electricity . . . With these recordings of the "Emperor" Concerto and Piano Sonata No. 32, Nelson Freire encapsulates a career's involvement with the music of Beethoven in an hour of unstinting grace. Preserved in sound that honors DECCA's exalted tradition of sonic excellence, this disc is an invigorating traversal of two of Beethoven's greatest works for the piano. It is also a lesson in the art of building a career that endures because love for music is its guiding principle.