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Beethoven: Triple Concerto, Piano Trio No. 7 - Storioni Trio / de Vriend

Beethoven: Triple Concerto, Piano Trio No. 7 - Storioni Trio / de Vriend

Challenge Classics  CC 72579

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Beethoven: Triple Concerto, Piano Trio "Archduke"

Storioni Trio
The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra
Jan Willem de Vriend


One if the finest recordings of 'Triple concerto' and 'Archduke trio' on period intruments with the renowned Storioni Trio and internationally acclaimed conducter Jan Willem de Vriend and his Netherlands Symphony Orchestra.

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Review by John Miller - March 3, 2013

The Storioni Trio from the Netherlands is rapidly gaining a global reputation as a young chamber group to watch. Their name is taken from the 1794 Laurentius Storioni violin from Cremona played by violinist Wouter Vossen. In the course of ensemble development, the trio members have worked with Stern, Rostropovich, Menahem Pressler and Ralph Kistschbaum as well as the Emerson and Vermeer Quartets. They are also interested in high fidelity sound, and have produced discs with Pentatone (Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms trios), Ars Produktion (a series of Julius Röntgen trios) and now more Beethoven with Challenge Records.

A feature of the Trio's versatility is their capability to play on period or modern instruments. This mainly applies to the piano which Bart van der Roer uses. I would imagine that the group's cello and violin, despite their ages, would have been subjected to most of the almost universal C19th modifications of the violin family, and so are not strictly period, but the players do change back, as here, to gut strings, and play with HIP style. The fortepiano chosen is a Salvatore Lagrasse model of the Viennese School from 1815, loaned by Edwin Beunk from his collection; it is restored not a replica. This Lagrass has featured on a number of recordings; it was also used by Malcolm Bilson in his set of Schubert Piano Sonatas. The availability of this pianoforte has led Challenge to plan on-going recording in of Beethoven's marvelous piano trios, highlights of his chamber music output.

The first disc of the series offers Beethoven's Triple Concerto Op. 56, dated to 1804. Critically regarded as the lost sheep of Beethoven's concertos, it is not really a piano concerto with added solo string accompaniment as suggested by the score, which calls the string solo parts "concertante". It is rather a piano trio with orchestral accompaniment; the soloists engage with one another far more than with the orchestra. Hence its appearance on this disc, and judging from the performance, the Storionis and conductor Jan Willem de Vriend feel passionately that the work is seriously misunderstood and undervalued, and have set out to rectify this.

For too long, wide-toned super-virtuosi with super egos have performed and recorded this work, more or less ignoring its classical origins, although some performances with a regular chamber group as soloists have been more successful. The Storioni take this a step further, using not only their "period" strings and reconstructed period grand piano but adding de Vriend's classically instilled Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, fresh from their recently completed cycle of Beethoven Symphonies. While not a period orchestra per se, the NSO use period brass instruments and hard sticks for the timpani, so we could call them a hybrid orchestra.

From the stealthily entrance of the orchestra in the first movement to its self-parody ending with a lengthy and loud series of C major chords, there is a remarkable charge of energy and vivid succession of light and shade from soloists and orchestra alike. This draws the listener in and keeps its grip, not an experience which I have previously had from the Triple Concerto. Its architecture is clearly exposed, and one can feel that the young Beethoven was enjoying many opportunities to experiment. trying out some new and unorthodox textures for the soloists as well as for the orchestra. Not a trace of ego or over-vibrato application disturbs the clarity and fleet-of-foot rhythmic beat which provides a sense of elation and enjoyment, helped by the whooping and 'blatting' of valveless horns. For the sections of lyrical repose, the soloists commune intimately with all the prowess of their classical rhetoric expertise. It is only in the coda of the first movement that the traditional “fire fight” between soloist and orchestra is thoroughly played out.

Beethoven's Largo in triple time is given a spacious but flowing tempo by de Vriend, again with Marc Vossen's Milanese Grancino cello from 1700 taking the melodic lead. This slow movement, despite its unruffled beauty, is unusually short, and passes without pause into the finale, a Rondo alla Polacca.

At the time of Beethoven's writing the politically radical composer favored the Polish cause: after all the country had been trampled and dismembered by Austria, Russia and Prussia in turn. Since there is no other tempo indication other than "alla Polacca", de Vriend gives us a moderately paced dance, in triple time of the standard polonaise. At the beginning, it is gracious and gentle, but ultimately the piece is a set of variations on this fine tune, rather than a true rondo. It moves forward to give many chances for the Trio to demonstrate their bravura, punctuated by majestic orchestral tuttis.

Three Viennese aristocrats banded together to provide a regular salary for Beethoven in 1809, the year in which the Triple Concerto was composed. Archduke Rudolph persuaded Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinsky that they should pay Beethoven a guaranteed annual salary of 4000 florins, provided that he stay in Vienna. Lobkowitz was the dedicatee for the Triple concerto, and Archduke Rudolf received the dedication for the next item on the disc, a Piano Trio, No. 7 Op. 97 (1811). One of the first products of Beethoven's so-called "Middle Period" following his crisis about impending deafness, this Trio is one of the most popular pieces in all Beethoven, and has acquired the nickname of the 'Archduke' trio. It follows the characteristics of Middle Period Music in its rich, poetic lyrical vein and expansion of Classical structures to their utmost.

Unlike the Triple Concerto, there are several recordings of the Archduke trio by period instrumentalists, for example Immerseel, Beths & Bylsma; the Castle Trio; Arcadia Trio and one from the Smithsonian Collection. Having a fortepiano with the violin and cello reduces the main problem of playing with modern instruments, as the piano is no longer able to drown the strings, a fact which also makes good recording balances easier. Also, as noted above, Beethoven tends not to use much in the way of chords for the pianist. Instead the left and right hands are more independent and this results in a thinner piano sound and also plugs more interplay into the music.

Compiling a disc carrying both an orchestral and a chamber piece really requires that the dynamic scale of the chamber music is set back proportionally on mastering, which doesn't really happen here. The fortes of the Archduke first movement come over at fortissimo, requiring a hand on the volume control, and potentially scuppering the meticulous preparation by the Storioni musicians, which shows in their obeying all of Beethoven's dynamic marks.

Once the volume is corrected, however, a very fine performance is revealed, from the welcoming urbanity of the Archduke's unforgettable opening theme to a cheeky, jaunty and exuberant finale. In between we have an Andante cantabile which comes from the same hallowed stable as the 'Pathétique' and 'Moonlight' Sonatas, beautifully "sung" by the Storioni. We can notice another experimental accompaniment in the recapitulation, where exquisite downward falling-broken arpeggios appear as a treble descant above the strings singing the main theme - magically played by the Trio. This recalls the famed "Angel's Wings" section of the Emperor piano concerto's slow movement. Having soothed our poetic soul, Beethoven happily bounces us into a comic scherzo, with a chromatically mysterious trio which relished by the players.

The high quality of music making on this disc is fully supported by Northstar's superbly balanced DSD recordings. The Triple Concerto was set down in the Muziekcentrum at Enschede with a large acoustic which thrillingly takes the full orchestral sound with aplomb. Northstar's engineers provide a wide sound stage, with a good front to back perspective, so we can easily hear the hand-horns ripping forth at the back. In contrast, the Archduke was recorded in the Evangelical Church at Haarlem, with a vivid and well-balanced ensemble image in an open but not reverberant acoustic.

Given the circumstances, this is a unique pairing which works out very well, despite a rather too high volume for the Archduke. Like many others, I have dutifully sat through overdone or underdone performances of the Triple Concerto, but none as gripping as this one, which positively reeks of Beethoven's brand of classicism. A very fine and inventively presented Archduke Trio suggests that further issues of a Storoni Beethoven Trio series with brilliant recording will be something to look forward to. This all depends, of course, on your ears being receptive to period instruments and historically informed performances!

Copyright © 2013 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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