BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2; Triple Concerto – Bernard Haitink w Maria Joao Pire/ Lars Vogt/ Gordan Nikolitch/ Tim Hugh – LSO 

by | Mar 20, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19; Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C Major, Op. 56 – Maria Joao Pires, piano (Op. 19)/ Lars Vogt, piano/ Gordan Nikolitch, violin/ Tim Hugh, cello/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Bernard Haitink – LSO Live LSOO745, 66:52 (3/1/19) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

From the archives of the London Symphony Orchestra come two classic Beethoven performances, as directed by Bernard Haitink (b. 1929): the Piano Concerto No. 2 (17, 21 February 2013) and the Triple Concerto (26-27 November 2005), each recorded live at the Barbican Centre, London.  Veteran pianist Maria Joao Pies (b. 1944) joins Haitink for the Classical 1789 B-flat Concerto – likely composed earlier than the C Major Concerto which enjoys the titular No. 1 – a rendition marked by an unhurried, poised elegance of phrase and suave rhythmic motion.  Though the scoring of the work appears relatively thin, without trumpets, clarinets, or drums, the first movement’s martial effects still prove resolute, the fanfares assertive and aerial.  The harmonic motion, too, veils the shifts into D-flat Major that might seem audacious in a young composer seeking to impress a stuffy Viennese audience.  Pires urges the music in deft conversation with Haitink’s pert LSO, and her cadenza proves athletically lithe.

Haitink allots to the Adagio a broad and spacious grandeur, much in anticipation of Beethoven’s directive for the solo’s late recitative passage, marked con gran espressione.  We may recall in this respect the slow movement from the large Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat Major, Op. 7. The marvelous interplay between Pires and the LSO woodwinds does not belie the haunting, personal intimacy which she communicates, even in the long trills that mark a degree of virtuosity that Beethoven possessed that would remind his original audience of their angel, Mozart.  The last movement Rondo, peppered with “Scotch snaps” in long and short notes, carries an infectious bounce all its own.  Haitink evokes a rich texture from his strings, while Pires manages the music in compound time with a juicy wit.  The theme itself recurs four times, with lyrical, even dark, intervals that remind us of the janissary elements in Mozart and look forward to the “gypsy” colors in Brahms and Liszt.  The rich texture of Pires’ instrument against the violins and cellos proves captivating.  A reading of eloquence and beguiling vitality, the collaboration becomes a kind of swansong for Pires, who announced her retirement from the stage in 2018.

Portrait Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven,
by Hornemann

The 1804 Triple Concerto of Beethoven has occupied a place in my own musical heart ever since I purchased the EMI performance on vinyl with the Oistrakh Trio and Sir Malcolm Sargent in a record shop in Newark, New Jersey in the late 1950s.  Beethoven here creates a musical atavism, a Baroque structure in the form of a sinfonia concertante that gives full expression to the two stringed instruments, especially the cello.  The three expert instrumentalists here provide a seamless ensemble, and the velvet tone of the Nikolitch violin carries a persuasion all its own.  The piano part, conceived for the gifted amateur Archduke Rudolf, makes fewer demands upon Vogt’s technical bravura, though the glitter can be most evocative.  The original theme, arising mysteriously in the cellos and basses, has its moments of triumphal gloss, countered by the touching, quiet sincerity of the cello writing, conceived at the time of Beethoven for Anton Kraft, a solid craftsman of the instrument for whom Haydn conceived his D Major Concerto.  The genial progression of the expansive, first movement Allegro has the benefit of the piano trio’s energetic cascades and occasional meditations, buttressed by the orchestral part, which can swell mountainously when required.

The Largo in A-flat Major opens with the sound of muted strings and Tim Hugh’s plangent cello, molto cantabile. The slow movement belongs virtually to the three soloists, a brief chamber music interlude that at once forecasts the slow movement of the Piano Concerto No. 4 and the slow movement of Tchaikovsky’s G Major Concerto, Op. 44.  The last movement, Rondo alla polacca, likely takes its cue from the Gypsy Rondo of Haydn’s famous Piano Trio No. 39 in G, though Beethoven did create a Polish dance for his own solo use in his C Major Polonaise, Op. 89 (1815).   Beethoven has good sport with his Concerto’s theme, vacillating in its jaunty course between ¾ and 2/4. The orchestral thrusts and jabs from Haitink – and his adept timpani – keep us on our collective toes, while the string parts truly urge us – and Vogt – to a high degree of virtuosity-in-velocity. The last pages literally sizzle with musical and dramatic excitement, given the touches of rhythmic nuance and instrumental color that have mesmerized us unapologetic lovers of this grand anomaly in the Beethoven oeuvre.

—Gary Lemco

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