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Zimerman and Rattle - Masters of Beethoven

By François Hudry |

The scarcity of the Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman's studio recordings is a result of his high standards and, at the same time, makes for an excellent sales pitch.

The pianist leaves nothing to chance, scrutinising scores in search of answers to his musical and organological questions concerning the style, the mechanics and possibilities of his instrument. He travels the world with his own Steinway pianos exclusively, dismantling them and reassembling them himself for each concert.

A first complete set of Beethoven's Concertos was started for the same publisher in Vienna with Leonard Bernstein in 1989, but this was unfortunately interrupted by Bernstein's death, which obliged Zimerman to conduct the first two concertos from his keyboard. The closeness of his Beethovenian vision to that of Sir Simon Rattle has led him to undertake a second complete collection with the latter, this time recorded in London with the London Symphony Orchestra. Krystian Zimerman's hyper-articulate playing, which gives exceptional legibility to Beethoven's lines, shines in this varied corpus, which starts at the end of the eighteenth century and goes straight into Romanticism. Around him, the fabulous English musicians sing and carry on their dialogues under Rattle's very lyrical direction. This conductor is particularly attentive to the pianist's slightest intentions, and there are many cues to watch out for.

While the global pandemic did not change musical approaches, it did profoundly alter the physical layout of the orchestras. In their splendid home of St. Luke's, an eighteenth-century church in the heart of London that was abandoned in the early 1960s after a terrible landslide and rehabilitated for the London Symphony Orchestra in the early twenty-first century, the musicians were forced to spread out according to strict health regulations. The protective screens between the music stands, the social distance of 1.5 metres between the strings and 2 metres between the woodwinds and the brass did not, however, detract from the coherence and sonic splendour of this recording. “Sometimes it feels like blowing smoke signals over a mountain, but there’s something about the effort that almost suits Beethoven. The struggle is part of his style,” Rattle said. “After all the anxiety and uncertainty that the pandemic gave us, it was such a release and such a joy for us to play Beethoven again. We were able to do this at a time when so many musicians had been prevented from working. It’s something I think we will never forget.”

Despite the logistical challenges involved, Zimerman, Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO manage to communicate the musical message with an ineffable, expressive intensity on this album.


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