It took me a while to find a performance of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto that made me want to stop looking for a better one. I prefer these Till Fellner performances, and also his recording of Beethoven's 2nd and 3rd piano concertos with Neville Marriner/ Academy of St. Martin in the fields (on Erato), to any others that I've heard. A close contender is the box set of Rudolph Serkin's live performances with Rafael Kubelik & Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on Orfeo. I place it in second place mostly because the sound quality (remastered from the 1977 concerts) is not quite as good (but close). As far as the 4th Concerto is concerned, I've also tried Bronfman/ Zinman on Arte Nova, but Fellner in my opinion plays with more feeling. Stephen Kovacevich/ Colin Davis on Philips is good until the final movement of the 4th, which is played way too fast. Claudio Arrau's studio recording with Sir Colin Davis/ Staatskapelle Dresden on Philips is very good, but the tempi are much slower, which is hard to get used to if you're accustomed to more moderately paced performances. I completely agree with this more articulate professional opinion by Fanfaremag's Jerry Dubins:
"Words are inadequate to describe the sheer joy I experienced at listening to this disc. I'd long ago abandoned hope of ever hearing Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto played as I've heard it in my head, and as it is played here.
"An ineffable poetry and grace illuminate their reading from within, such that I can honestly say this is how Beethoven's G-Major Piano Concerto was meant to sound. Every detail and nuance is traced with a touching tenderness and delicacy that is neither fussy nor prissy, but rather flows, as if unbidden, like an outpouring of radiant, seraphic song. This is no mere dialogue or conversation between soloist, conductor, and orchestra, but the entwining of souls in rapt concord.
"Even in Beethoven's cadenza, Fellner keeps the flashier passages in check and ferrets out the more lyrical elements. Tempos are decidedly on the moderate side, which allows the music to breathe and expand, and which I believe gives this performance its ennobling feeling. Nagano, the Montreal orchestra, and the ECM recording are as much a part of this magnificent achievement as is Fellner. The recording has a fullness, depth, and solidity to it that are equal to the very best modern technology has to offer.
"But what of the "Emperor" Concerto you must be wondering? Fellner, Nagano, and company bring much the same approach and temperament to it as they do to the Fourth Concerto. Obviously, the first movement is a more extroverted, one might even say, exhibitionistic, work. It struts and strides where the first movement of the Fourth Concerto soars and glides. Yet, even among the "Emperor's" rhetorical regalia, there are moments of tenderness and repose. And of course, it's in the great slow movement, as in the slow movement of the Violin Concerto, that we enter into another of Beethoven's dream fantasies, one that anticipates, perhaps like none other he composed, the world of Chopin.
"It's still early in the season, but this release will definitely be in the running for my 2010 Want List, and it deserves to be on every reader's list for 'Concerto Recording of the Year.' A stunning achievement by all involved." Jerry Dubins