Schiff and Haitink recorded a complete Beethoven concerto cycle in Dresden in 1996, from which this disc is taken. The Fourth was recorded in March, the Third in November. The sound is excellent, with just a int of digital glare, and needless to say the Dresdeners play with seasoned style and elegance. I became attracted when I herd how energetic and incisive the pianist was in the first two concertos, a decided surprise since in my mind Andras Schiff comes off as overly restrained in music after Bach. In keeping with other pianists who excel in Bach, he applies a detached, at times tinkly touch when he moves on to later composers, and for me, that doesn't suit Beethoven or Schubert.
Of course you can argue that Beethoven's early concertos are extensions of Haydn, but here we are firmly in the middle period with Concerto no. 4 and making a transition into it with Concerto no. 3. Haiitnk observes the difference markedly; he gives greater weight and force to the accompaniments, although not the full-blown romanticism of Ormandy and Bernstein, say, when they accompanied Rudolf Serkin in these works. Schiff remains lighter in his approach than Serkin, but in a movement like the Largo of the Third, we don't get a period-inspired speed up. the tempo is braid, and the pianist's phrasing suitable for middle-period Beethoven as tradition recognizes it. In the outer movements the approach is also traditional, and to be honest, I would have appreciated less respectfulness and more brio. Best of all would be the ebullient originality of Mikhail Pletnev in his eye-opening cycle for DG. Schiff comes dangerously close to chirping in the finale of the Third.
It's said, with some justice, that the Fourth announces itself from the opening measures for solo piano, where in a handful of notes you sense the pace, style, and emphasis of the entire performance. Schiff, who is surely a touch pianist as opposed to a power pianist, displays careful sensitivity in these opening bars. A long orchestral episode follows, which Haitink takes vigorously and with some weight, the pacing being on the measured side. With the piano's return you realize, for better or worse, that moderation and stylishness will be the order of the day, even more so than in Perahia's version with Haitink on Sony. Schiff misses the chance to color his part and change the mood in places where Beethoven's modulations clearly open the way for variety.
I'm not a fan of uniformity, so the long first movement (19 min.) began to lose interest. The slow movement, taken too fast to be really dramatic, finds Schiff being even more moderate; there's little sense of competition between soloist and orchestra. But his touch serves him well i the magical transition to the finale. We don't get the elegant but clinical effect of Brendel. the finale is marked "lively," and here I want real sparkle and flash, but Haitink and Schiff keep to the middle of the road with no fear of veering. Once again the chance to vary the mood when the music modulates is missed.
In the end, the Third was more successful than the Fourth, which keeps true to type, since Schiff always seems more persuasive to me when the music is less romantic.