BEETHOVEN Triple Concerto. Piano Concerto No 3
It is rare for us to be offered the C minor Piano Concerto and the Triple Concerto on the same disc. Yet it is a significant pairing. Adjacent in time and complementary in keys, the concertos are the bridge between Beethoven’s early jeux d’esprit in the form and the settled masterpieces that are the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto.
The new disc gets the concertos the wrong way around – stylistically and chronologically, the Triple Concerto should follow the C minor, not precede it – but that’s readily amended. As to the performances, that of the C minor Concerto is a thing of some distinction, that of the Triple Concerto a disappointment, so timid is the playing of the concertante piano trio.
Beethoven wrote the Triple Concerto as a commission from his keyboard pupil, the 16-year-old Archduke Rudolph, though it is the famously expressive but notoriously high-lying cello part that is the work’s principal glory: witness performances by Stefan Auber on Weingartner’s technically remarkable 1937 world-premiere Vienna recording, Pierre Fournier (for Fricsay) or, more recently, Sol Gabetta (for Antonini).
A difficult piece to balance live in concert, this enterprising though frankly eccentric marriage of piano trio and symphony orchestra had just one performance in Beethoven’s lifetime. Its saviour would be the gramophone, where careful microphone placing and judicious conducting helps provide the perfect overview. Unfortunately, the new performance is neither studio-made nor independently directed. Compare this to, say, the beautifully judged 1977 Philips recording (available as a download or as a print-on-demand CD from Presto Classical) in which the Beaux Arts Trio have Bernard Haitink and the LPO as their discerning partners.
Turn to the Third Piano Concerto, however, and things are very different. Here Lars Vogt’s characteristically crystalline playing is matched by recorded sound that is comparably crisp and clear. The performance, too, is distinguished – always an agreeable experience where this free-spirited though in places cussedly hidebound concerto is concerned.
The slow movement is ravishingly done. Indeed, it’s here that thoughts of distinguished predecessor studio recordings by the likes of Kempff and Gilels come to mind. The Vogt is live, which may account for some of the unscheduled lingerings and unduly bullish orchestral tuttis we encounter in the outer movements. Yet with Vogt palpably master of all he surveys, the entire performance lives in a way which isn’t always the case with Maria João Pires’s distinguished 2013 Onyx account, where Daniel Harding’s conducting is rather more formulaic.
As to this particular coupling, it’s worth noting that Naxos’s reissue of Weingartner’s 1937 Vienna recording of the Triple Concerto is paired with the recording of the C minor Concerto Weingartner made with Marguerite Long in Paris in 1939: a rare disc in itself and, in its way, an entirely wonderful one.