From the Klavierfestival Ruhr in the Jahrhunderthalle Bochum Daniel Barenboim, soloist and conductor Staatskapelle Berlin
29:17 III. Rondo.
Allegro (12:04) The world of music initially reacted less enthusiastically to Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto in E-flat Major, Op. 73. “The excessive length of the composition”, wrote one reviewer, following the work’s first public performance at a Gewandhaus concert in Leipzig on 28 November 1811, “reduced the overall effect that this glorious product of the composer’s mind would undoubtedly otherwise have produced.” On the one hand, the critic was not entirely wrong, for the Fifth Piano Concerto is Beethoven’s longest piano concerto, and in its heroic “Eroica” key of E fiat major is certainly a “glorious product of the composer’s mind”. But with the best will in the world it is impossible to claim that it falls to produce an “overall effect”. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Fifth is the most effective of Beethoven’s five piano concertos and one of the most popular of all contributions to the medium. Outside the German-speaking world the work’s special status is acknowledged by descriptions of it as the “Emperor”, “L’Empéreur” and “Imperatore”. This alternative name was not Beethoven’s but probably derives from his friend and publisher Johann Baptist Cramer. In spite of its inauthenticity, it goes straight to the heart of the matter, for no piano concerto begins on a more majestic or a more resplendent note. Three times the full orchestra intones a radiant chord and three times the solo piano responds with a bravura cadenza before the orchestra introduces the main theme. At the climax of the development section, orchestra and solo instrument engage in a veritable battle fought out over harshly dotted rhythms from which they emerge as equals. And even in the soloist’s cadenza, the orchestra refuses to fall completely silent but engages in a subtle dialogue with the piano. In none of his other piano concertos was Beethoven as successful in forging a novel synthesis between concertante writing and the gestural language of the symphony.