John O'Conor Concludes Beethoven Piano Concerto Cycle
In 2007, pianist John O’Conor and the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Andreas Delfs recorded a brilliant version of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op.19 and No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73, “Emperor” (CD-80675). Gramophone heaped high praise on the Telarc recording: “…pianist John O’Conor and conductor Andreas Delfs invest these much-recorded scores with deep feeling relaxed yet never draggy tempi. The London Symphony Orchestra provide vibrant and unfailingly alive support under Delfs’ caring leadership.” O’Conor and Delfs return to complete the cycle with stunning interpretations of Nos. 1, 3 and 4 in a Telarc recording set for release on September 23, 2008.
O’Conor first gained critical acclaim in the United States in 1986 with the release of the initial volume of the complete Beethoven Sonata cycle.
Beethoven composed the first four of his five mature piano concertos for his own concerts (two juvenile essays in the genre are discounted in the numbering). The Concerto No. 1 in C major (1798) was actually the second to be written, but it was given the lower number because the earlier B-flat Concerto (1795) was several months later in reaching publication.
“The opening movement of the First Piano Concerto is indebted to Mozart for its handling of the concerto-sonata form, for its technique of orchestration, and for the manner in which piano and orchestra are integrated,” says Richard E. Rodda in the liner notes to the new recording. “Beethoven added to these quintessential qualities of the Classical concerto a wider-ranging harmony, a more openly virtuosic role for the soloist and a certain emotional weight characteristic of his large works. The second movement is a richly colored song with an important part for the solo clarinet. The rondo finale is written in an infectious manner reminiscent of Haydn, brimming with high spirits and good humor.”
The first movement of the Concerto No. 3 opens with the longest introductory orchestral tutti of any of the other concertos, virtually a full symphonic exposition in itself. The second movement is a nocturne of tender sentiments and quiet moods. The traditional, classical rondo form was simple – intended to leave the audience in high spirits and send them away in a happy mood. Mozart, in his incomparable late concertos, had begun to explore the emotional depth possible with the rondo, and in this Third Concerto, Beethoven continued that search. Beethoven incorporated elements of sonata design into the finale to lend it additional weight, even inserting a fugal passage in the second episode. Only in the closing pages is the dark world of C minor abandoned for a vivacious romp through C major.
In the Fourth Concerto, the mood is established immediately by a hushed, prefatory phrase for the soloist. The form of the movement, vast yet intimate, begins to unfold with the orchestral introduction, presented by rich thematic material: the main theme, with its small intervals and repeated notes; the secondary themes, a melancholy strain with an arch shape and a grand melody with wide leaps; and a closing theme of descending scales. The second movement starkly opposes two musical forces – the stern, unison summons of the strings and the gentle, touching replies of the piano. The strings are eventually subdued by the entreaties of the piano, which then gives forth a wistful little song filled with quivering trills. After only the briefest pause, a high-spirited and long-limbed rondo-finale is launched by the strings to bring the Concerto to a stirring close.
Through his recitals, concerto appearances and critically acclaimed recordings, Irish pianist John O'Conor has earned a reputation as a masterful interpreter of the Classic and Early Romantic piano repertoires. He has been praised for his formidable technique. Thanks to his eloquent phrasing, mastery of keyboard color, and in particular his unique sound, he has been called a true poet of the piano. O’Conor studied Beethoven’s music with Wilhelm Kempff, which resulted in him leading the annual Beethoven seminar at Kempff’s villa in Positano, Italy, since 1997. He was awarded first prize in Vienna’s 1973 International Beethoven Piano Competition by unanimous vote and the Bösendorfer Piano Prize in 1975. O’Conor has a direct line to Beethoven, as traced through his teacher to his teacher’s teacher and beyond. His prestigious lineage is more than apparent in his first-rate interpretation of the composer’s works.
O'Conor has made more than 20 recordings for Telarc, including the complete Beethoven Bagatelles (which was cited by The New York Times as the best recordings of these works) and Mozart Concertos with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He has also recorded the complete Nocturnes, Sonatas and Concertos of the Irish Composer John Field. This recording was made at the famed Abbey Road Studios, and produced by GRAMMY-Award-winning producer Elaine Martone and GRAMMY-Award-winning engineer Jack Renner.
Conductor Andreas Delfs celebrated his 10th year as Music Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra during the 2006-07 season and most-recently was appointed Principal Conductor of the Honolulu Symphony. Born in Flensburg, Germany, Delfs began the study of piano and music theory at age 5 and joined the roster of the Flensburg Stadttheater as conductor and composer at 17. He studied with Christoph von Dohnányi and Aldo Ceccato at the Hamburg Conservatory and served as a staff conductor at the Luneburg Stadttheater. At 20, he became the Music Director of the Hamburg University Orchestra, the youngest person ever to hold this post, and Musical Assistant at the Hamburg State Opera.