Beethoven was a musically promising 13 year old when he composed his first piano concerto. 24 years later he premiered his Concerto no. 5 in E flat major. In a new recording just issued by Naxos [8.574153], Russian Pianist Boris Giltburg has made it his musical mission to include what remains of Beethoven’s first youthful effort in this form – a work of which only the piano part survives – in the same CD as another E flat major work:  the Concerto no. 5, “Emperor.”

It would be easy not to go beyond labeling that early unfinished work as a naïve adolescent effort and leave it at that. But listen with an open ear and mind and one will hear moments of genuine inspiration in which the boy that would soon blossom into one of the greatest composers of all time is already capable of spinning cantabile melody and forging fairly complex contrapuntal passages.

Not so much a miracle of youthful inspiration as the result of the hard work that was expected of him by his musical mentors, the unnamed concerto – numbered No. 0, WoO 4 in the Beethoven catalogue –   is not a mere musical curio, but a charming creation by a budding musical genius. Absent an orchestra, Boris Giltburg gives this musical discovery a respectfully elegant rendition that reveals its many youthful charms.

When it comes to the Concerto no. 5 in E flat major, popularly known as the “Emperor”, Giltburg, in the good company of Vasily Petrenko at the helm of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic delivers a rich performance, muscular in the first and last movements, heartfelt in the middle movement, energetic when needed, calm and reflective when called for.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS