Album Review: Alessio Bax plays Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 with Southbank Sinfonia on Signum

This is a humble unfussy interpretation of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto given by Alessio Bax with the Southbank Sinfonia and their principal conductor Simon Over.

Bax is a good match for the rich sonorities and sometimes complex demands of Beethoven’s writing. He avoids the temptation of self-indulgence, presenting a clean immediate interpretation of the material that helps demystify the work. Legatos sections have a graceful fluidity, and the articulation a business-like precision. The rubatos (in the Beethoven concerto and throughout the album in fact) are textbook Bax too – just the right amount of pull-back of speed before returning back to the original intent. That gives the interpretation a beguiling human quality too. 

The wind and brass dominate throughout the first movement (the strings seem low in the mix – perhaps they needed a few more players to balance things out). Their chance to shine is undoubtedly at the beginning of the second movement where the main subject is a collective stage whisper ahead of the piano entry. Throughout the second movement the strings appear to gain in terms of balance, though the wind and brass are still strong.

A near-equilibrium is reached in the third movement between the two orchestra sections suggesting the entire work has been a tussle for the attention of the piano solo line.

A big hand must go to the timpani player Louise Goodwin whose delicately articulated phrase (the rhythmic material underpinning the entire concerto) is something to behold.

The other half of the album sees Alessio Bax on his own, opening with a Bach-infused F minor Prelude – is followed by Beethoven’s compact and little heard piano sonata number 27. Both works are for me the pleasing elements on this album. The second and concluding movement of the sonata in particular is especially charming, at various stages giving Bax an opportunity to display his trademark fluid legatos and unfussy rubatos.

The Contredanses are curious things that motor along at a gentile pace, and are a fascinating listening study, but not necessarily a fulfilling listen. The concluding Polonaise repays the listener with something a little more resolute.

Alessio Bax playing Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 (with the Southbank Sinfonia conducted by Simon Over) and works for solo piano is released on Signum Classics and available via Spotify.

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