Ludwig van Beethoven endures as the pivotal figure in classical music and remains the perennial composer featured in orchestral programming. How might an orchestra best approach a performance of Beethoven?

In this revealing concert, forte pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout led the Australian Chamber Orchestra in a probing account of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat major, Op.73, the “Emperor” concerto. A historically informed reading, performed on historically informed instruments, this was the Emperor in magnificent old clothes.

Bezuidenhout, who conducts the orchestra from the keyboard, devised a program that goes beyond a performative analysis of the concerto and includes music by other composers who influenced Beethoven or who were influenced by him.

Kristian Bezuidenhout. Photo © Marco Borggreve

A companion essay by Nicholas Matthew extends the analysis by exploring Beethoven’s life and times — the era of the Napoleonic wars. Matthew reminds the reader that Beethoven was a “wartime” composer and that the preponderance of brass and drums, and the explosive energy alternating with introspective moments that inflect his music, arise from his physical proximity to the battlefield. The way in which Beethoven’s use of improvisation informed his composing is also discussed, and...