Onyx’s first installment from Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires shows how foolish Deutsche Grammophon were to let her go.
Pires is unafraid to take risks. Her view of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto not only enters into a pianist-composer dialogue, but also probes our relationship as consumers of this (too) regularly recorded masterwork. With Daniel Harding and the SRSO resonating in empathy, Pires stretches the opening movement to just short of 20 minutes which, although not unprecedented, blows air through the structure, allowing us time to look around, to reacquaint ourselves with what we know from a slightly oblique angle.
Some of my reviewer colleagues have suggested that at this tempo Pires and Harding let the momentum droop, but personally I hear liberation within their deliberation. Pires’ analytically detailed playing tunnels deep inside the poetic soul of Beethoven’s score; no glossing over his abrupt changes of mood, the confrontation between soloist and orchestra in the slow movement given Stravinskian objectivity – although you do wish the Finale could have been a little more peppery and genuinely vivace. The Third Concerto is as bold as brass too, the first movement peaking as Pires rips through the cadenza before tip-toeing around the graceful slow movement like a kitten pirouetting on a glockenspiel.