- Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
- Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major ("Emperor"), Op. 73
Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto begins not with a bang but a gentle chord from the solo piano. It's a quietly arresting dramatic gesture that sets the tone for the entire work -- the most poetic of the composer's orchestral works. The piano and orchestra engage in a searching, sometimes intimate dialogue, tossing ideas back and forth and then reacting as would characters in a play. Of course, this kind of work requires an exceptionally sensitive interpreter, and Wilhelm Kempff was just that kind of probing musician. His technique was not as sure as that of other virtuosi, but his ability to dig deep into the music's soul was unsurpassed. The "Emperor" Concerto is showier, more ceremonial, and it does begin with a big orchestral bang that sets off a glittering display of fireworks from the soloist. Sandwiched between the muscular, flashy outer movements is a slow, mesmerizing "aria" in which the piano floats its serene song above a cloud of muted strings. While it lacks the conversational give-and-take between piano and orchestra that makes the Fourth Concerto so extraordinary, the tuneful exhilaration of the "Emperor" has made it the most popular of Beethoven's five piano concertos. Some pianists are more incendiary than Kempff in this work, but the seriousness and subtlety of his interpretation is ultimately more satisfying.