These are quiet performances but that doesn’t mean they’re understated. Supported by cultivated playing from the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Maria João Pires and conductor Daniel Harding fold themselves inside Beethoven’s pages and trust what lies within. While neither Maria João Pires nor Daniel Harding is self-effacing their combined virtuosity serves the score, not the spectacle, and their minds meet in readings that are less tumultuous than tingling with collaborative certainty.
Harding’s discreetly slow tempo choices, especially in the third concerto, are a long way from the febrile speeds he tended to favour earlier in his career. He paces the music evenly and uses any fleeting moments of silence along the way to aerate the sound picture. The textures that result are light but never lightweight, and they allow Pires to thrive.
The septuagenarian pianist has never sounded more fresh-toned than in the Mozartian slow movement of No.3, where she seems less to be depressing the keys than coaxing them into sound. Grace and fluidity are a constant presence throughout the epic opening movement of No.4 too, yet it’s cogently argued and properly full-bodied. Even when the demi-semi-quavers are stacked against her, Pires sustains Beethoven’s melodic form and allows it to sing in gracious, considered lines.