BEETHOVEN Choral Fantasy. Triple Concerto
Listening to the opening tutti on this joyful new Triple Concerto, I could just picture Nikolaus Harnoncourt cueing his strings, perched slightly forwards, impatiently waiting for that first, pregnant forte. This is a big, affable, blustery Triple, the soloists completing the sound canvas rather than dominating it, a genuine collaborative effort. So beside the Beethovenian strut to this performance there is poetry too, as at 8’25” where Clemens Hagen wafts in with the principal theme underpinned by gently brushed strings. Then again the modulating sequences from 9’36”, so often crudely hammered home in rival versions, are stylishly shaped, the emphases properly focused, with Aimard clearly centre-stage. And yet thoughtfulness never spells caution (all three works were recorded at concerts in Graz over the last 18 months); Hagen and Thomas Zehetmair throw caution to the winds near the end of the first movement.
The Concerto’s Largo is simplicity itself, rather like a song without words, but it is the finale that is likely to raise the most smiles, a rumbustious affair, uninhibited without coursing out of control. Harnoncourt and his team go for the burn, always brilliant but, more importantly, full of character and humour.
The fill-ups are hardly less engaging. The little B flat Rondo is bubbly from the start, Aimard and the orchestra maintaining a feeling of chamber collaboration. And then the Choral Fantasia, so often clunky on disc but here much aided by Aimard’s sense of style – his arpeggios in the long opening solo have so much colour – and by Harnoncourt’s relaxed approach to the music that follows, each variation imaginatively tended within a larger framework. The singing is excellent, the sound both warm and realistic. As ‘feel-good’ Beethoven programmes go, this is about as enjoyable as it gets, though a high level of musical insight further enhances one’s pleasure. But then isn’t that always the case with Harnoncourt?