Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so they say. It has been a while since I heard Phillip Kawin’s Beethoven Third Concerto with the Russian National Orchestra and the excellent Gerard Schwarz; it is even finer than I remember. It helps, of course, that the recording has been overhauled to provide even sweeter purity: everything has been remastered. Listening to the Third Piano Concerto without the benefit of visuals (that is, on the compact disc) makes for a terrific experience. Orchestral placement in the sound image is pinpoint precise; the piano sound is absolutely top-notch and relays every nuance of Kawin’s magisterial interpretation. Kawin’s cadenza in the first movement—powerful, dignified, and full of integrity—is as persuasive as any, but now it is as if new details come to light. Voice-leading in the lower registers that previously did not quite make its point is now sculpted with razor-edge accuracy. Similarly, the weighting of the chords that open the slow movement is exquisite; and the Russian National Orchestra’s contribution is positively aglow. We hear how carefully the woodwind chords are balanced in the finale, as well as every nuance of Kawin’s left-hand 16th notes, and indeed his right-hand triplet 16ths as well. Excellent though Paul Carasco’s direction of the DVD experience is, unfailingly musical at its core, I have to confess a preference for the audio-only format. It is salutary, though, to remind oneself of one of Kawin’s many strengths. His musicality is directed purely through his fingers and arms. There is no superfluous movement to distract; concentration is, instead, total.
The Variations unfold completely naturally. Kawin persuades us this is no mere filler but an integral part of Beethoven’s oeuvre; the structure is perfectly projected, and the minor-key variation (No 5, in C Minor) verges on the sublime. Hearing Kawin’s “Appassionata” again is a treat (on the previous incarnation it similarly shared disc space with WoO 78, but also the Prokofiev Seventh Sonata, two of the Schumann op. 12 Fantasiestücke, and the Schumann/Liszt Widmung: see my interview and review in Fanfare 40:3). The melding of technique, structure, and expression in the first movement is masterly, but it is in the slow movement that the remastering really seems to make its point. Everything is crystal clear and one can appreciate the minutest gradation; similarly with the weighting of the chords that open the finale and the translucency of many textures thereafter. We hear with absolute certainty the way figures chase each other in hands that are absolutely equal. This is a reading of the highest integrity and vision.
It is indeed convenient to have Kawin’s Beethoven conveniently packaged in this neat little twofer; the newly remastered sound is a persuasive reason for purchase, too, and frankly I’d take any excuse to renew my acquaintance with these mature readings. Recommended, with enthusiasm.