When it comes to piano concertos, no two composers wrote more compatible concertos than Grieg and Schumann. Both are in A minor, both are in three movements, and both are ecstatically lyric, tenderly romantic, and amazingly virtuosic. And both fit very comfortably together as a recorded double bill, a coupling that has attracted some of the greatest pianists of the postwar years: Claudio Arrau with Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony, Leon Fleisher with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, Walter Gieseking with Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic, Sviatoslav Richter with Lovro von Matacic and the Monte Carlo National Opera Orchestra, and this recording by Stephen Kovacevich with Colin Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Maria-Joào Pires has recorded these concertos before, for Erato, and this experience shows in assured playing. In K449 I find the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic, recorded in Vienna's Musikverein, too big: the string section seems large and the hall over-reverberant. Furthermore, the piano sounds plummy, and even those who dislike the fortepiano may question its suitability. With these reservations, one can enjoy Pires's deft and sensitive performance, without strong individuality but offering consistent intelligence, and the brisk finale shows her and Abbado at their best. Even so, this is a romanticized slow movement; the gooey orchestral sound does not help, but the pianist is also partly responsible in a way that I have sometimes noted in her performances of Mozart's sonatas.
The two works included in this album are among the most unlikely of recording combinations, but here they are, under the baton of Claudio Abbado and the BPO, collaborating with Abbado's bosom friend Pollini.