Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, completed about the same time as the Eroica Symphony, has suddenly become popular. One reason for its previous lack of popularity was the fact that three soloists cost three times as much as one normally expensive pianist, violinist or cellist. Another reason is that the work seeks to be a popular success, hence the Rondo alla Polacca with which it concludes. The piano part was intended for Beethoven’s patron and pupil, the Archduke Rudolph von Habsburg, and hence is less technically demanding than the composer’s usual pianistic writing, destined for himself. The standard CD (previously LP) of the work was a spectacular performance and recording made by EMI many years ago with David Oistrakh, Rostropovich and Richter with the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan. It was opulently played with the BPO’s luscious sound, but has little to do with what Beethoven would have heard in 1804. Another choice was the version of Stern, Rose and Serkin (Sony), less lush and not so high-powered as Karajan’s.
Recordings of Beethoven's Triple Concerto, Op. 56, by a piano trio rather than by a group of virtuosi (a configuration that almost always misunderstands the work) are not abundant. Still rarer are those like the present release by the Storioni Trio, a Dutch group that takes its name from the maker of the 1790s instrument played by the violinist (and strung, like the viola, with gut strings). Pianist Bart van de Roer plays an 1815 Lagasse fortepiano. This recording is part of a series devoted to Beethoven's piano trios, but the Triple Concerto actually is more comfortable in those surroundings than when forced to keep company with the likes of the Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61.
The air on Mt. Olympus must have been something like that in Berlin’s Jesus-Christus-Kirche when, in September 1969, the threesome of Richter, Oistrakh and Rostropovich joined Herbert von Karajan for this majestic recording of Beethoven’s underrated Triple Concerto. That there could have been such a meeting of the minds in this gathering of greats is difficult to believe, until one remembers that the three soloists were frequent collaborators who all spoke the same musical language, and after years in the trenches knew each other and their conductor very well. As one would expect, the solo work of the three Russians is brilliant and deeply musical. But just as delightful is the way they adjust from solo to ensemble roles and play together, with perfect unanimity, in the duet and trio passages. Karajan and the Berliners provide a monumental accompaniment, weighty, powerful, and rich in tone. The recording, one of the best from EMI in this venue, has been remastered in exemplary fashion and is impressively detailed and vivid.
The Beethoven Triple Concerto is a strange work, with the most important–-or at least prominent–-solos given to the cello; it is the instrument which introduces each movement. The remarkable Martha Argerich wisely allows Mischa Maisky to shine in his solos and leading position, but her contribution is anything but back seat. Her customary virtuosity is everywhere in evidence, and, in a way, she turns the piano into the spinal column of the work, with the violin and cello playing around her. Every time Maisky is about to lapse into a mannerism which might detract–-too much sliding, a dynamic slightly exaggerated–-Argerich brings him back, and both of them play with handsome tone. Capucon's violin is recorded a bit stridently (this was taped live in Lugano), but his playing is equally stunning. Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky leads the orchestra matter-of-factly until the final movement, when he catches the proper fire. In the Schumann A minor concerto Argerich is wonderful the solo passages and a fine partner in orchestrated ones and she really makes much of both the lyrical runs and the dance-like passages in the last movement. Recommended.
Outstanding conductor Karajan coupled with remarkable soloists, David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich, Sviatoslav Richter and the Berliner Philharmoniker deliver charismatic renditions of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. Another addition in EMI’s illustrious remastered series, the performances are warm, spacious and powerful, remastered by four exquisite engineers.