Australian Haydn Ensemble, AHE

In the past, I’ve enjoyed pianist Fumiko Shiraga’s recordings for BIS of chamber arrangements of piano concertos by Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven. So I was looking forward to this recording by home-grown talent which promised the added attraction of a deeply-researched, period-instrument approach. I have not been disappointed.

Vi King Lim takes the cue for his arrangements of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 3, for fortepiano, two violins, two violas, cello, double-bass and flute, from 19th-century chamber arrangements of symphonies. The resulting sonority, especially with Paul McNulty’s copy of a fortepiano by Conrad Graf from c.1819, is silvery and transparent though not without a pleasing grittiness or bite. Combined with a sparing use of vibrato in the strings and soloist Neal Peres Da Costa’s deft use of the piano’s “convincing Schubertian palette”, it helps evoke the revolutionary fire of the originals and the sound world of the 19th-century salon alike.

I say “helps” because the interpretations have to do the heavy lifting. Da Costa’s liner notes are excellent but the proof is in the pudding. Here, indeed, is a “rhetorical Beethoven”, as he puts it, one with a more flexible approach to rhythm and tempo in order to advance the musical argument with improvisatory flair and panache. It’s wonderful stuff: intimate, revelatory and highly enjoyable.