I read a review on Amazon which described these readings as small-scaled, and therefore "different", simply because a chamber orchestra is used. Listening to these SACDs, I found the Swedish Chamber Orchestra to be perfectly satisfactory in body and presence. The full-bodied, dynamic Chandos sound more than compensates for the reduced number of string players. And their precise, incisive playing is spectacular. The same applies to Bavouzet's incredible piano playing. It's so refreshing to hear such clarity, detail and precision, with minimal pedaling.
Tempos throughout are sensible, energetic, crisp, alert and alive. I'd even go so far as to say jubilant. The feel of spontaneity and new discovery is ever present. (The 1st movement of the 5th, taken at a true Allegro, sounds positively exhilarating.) And mercifully, slow movements do not drag, but sing in a most natural, flowing way.
The glorious Chandos recording affords this group plenty of body, color, energy and dynamic impact - without weighing it down and muddying the piano, as is so often the case. The resultant soundstage reveals one big advantage to using a chamber orchestra: the engineers did not need to spotlight the piano. It's naturally placed right there in the midst of the players. Taken as a whole, the sound, perspective, clarity, hall acoustic, and especially the playing from all involved, are most impressive. These are just about the best recordings of these concertos I can ever remember hearing.
The only negative I observed is a slightly out of tune piano on certain notes in the right-hand range (most notably in mvts. 2 & 3 of the 1st). It's not excruciating, but enough to let you know your tweeters are doing their job.
The Grand Quintet for piano and winds, which fills out disc 3, was an absolutely splendid choice and a thoroughly delightful addition to the usual canon. Indeed, it's the highlight of the set for me, being played and recorded as beautifully as it is. For once, the horn does not overpower, and the entire performance brings much pleasure. I found myself smiling all through it.
So perhaps what others may hear as "different", is simply hearing more of Beethoven. More energy, more life, more detail, more precision, more singing lines and more natural expression. Compared to the usual run-of-the-mill, mass-produced releases from the big labels, this indeed is different. In the best ways imaginable. And it is certainly a vast improvement in every way over Pentatone's 2019 set with Inon Barnatan, who is let down by plodding orchestral support under Alan Gilbert and shockingly mediocre CD-only recorded sound by Pentatone.
This is the set of Beethoven Piano Concertos for a new generation of listeners. But don't stream it; don't YouTube it; don't MP3 it. Buy the discs, especially while Chandos is still giving us SACDs. It is simply wonderful in every way.