As is well known, the onset of hearing loss and later almost complete deafness did not prevent Beethoven from composing numerous masterpieces, but it did prevent him from completing further piano concertos after his Fifth. After all, Beethoven wrote these works primarily for his own performances as a pianist. Beethoven himself performed the Fourth Piano Concerto, while his master pupil Carl Czerny was the soloist at the premiere of his Fifth. The concerto, written in the heroic key of E flat major, is a worthy conclusion to the series of works. The passion and turmoil of the outer movements, which frame one of Beethoven’s most intimate slow movements, have always been associated with the political situation of the time in which it was written: the war between Austria and France led to the occupation of Vienna by Napoleon’s troops in 1809. Following a concert together at the Baden-Baden Easter Festival in 2015, Igor Levit, one of the leading Beethoven interpreters today, now appears for the first time with the Philharmoniker in Berlin as the soloist in this work.
When Sergei Prokofiev finally returned from abroad to his by then Soviet-ruled homeland in 1936, he was welcomed with full honours, hailed as the greatest composer, and awarded several Stalin prizes. However, with the mercilessly enforced doctrine of “socialist realism”, the situation also changed for him. While the premiere of the Sixth Symphony in 1947 had nevertheless been successful, a little later it was given the usual label of “formalism” by the cultural bureaucracy and condemned as “chaotic”. The verdict has undoubtedly contributed to the symphony’s shadowy existence in the concert hall to this day. In this concert, the Berliner Philharmoniker perform this unusually expressive and dramaturgically captivating composition under the baton of Paavo Järvi, who has appeared regularly with the orchestra for many years.