If true, Beethoven’s assertion that his Piano Concerto in B flat was “not one of my best” is absolute poppycock.
It may not quite match the Fourth’s free-flowing lyricism, or approach the magisterial power of the ‘Emperor’, but the little Second is a work of immense charm.
One can look past the Mozartian elements of the Adagio (easily done when there are no clarinets) and the hovering spirit of Haydn; in the right hands it’s a gem of a concerto by Beethoven at his most romantic.
At least that’s how Steven Osborne played in a performance that, while demonstrating many aspects of an historically informed reading in its elegant phrasing (conductor Andrew Manze engaged all his period-instrument experience to give appropriate weight and articulation of the orchestral support), allowed dynamic contrasts, especially crescendos and diminuendos, to sing with emotional meaning rather than just change volume.
The finale was a particular delight, its humour gently pointed with an almost tongue-in-cheek reticence, and a total avoidance of affectation or posturing (Lang Lang and others please note).
Osborne’s choice of encore, the E flat Intermezzo of Brahms (did it really have to be so dreamily delivered?), at least put us in the mood for his Second Symphony in the second half.
Manze’s approach – quasi-Classical with touches of Schumann, but definitely not Wagner – tended to suggest doggedly working through material, and not until the Allegretto (nicely handled by principal oboist Rainer Gibbons and colleagues) did things start to look up, which eventually led to a life-enhancing concluding peroration in ‘typical’ Brahms fashion.