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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Triple Concerto Op. 56 [33:38]
Clarinet Trio Op. 11 [21:17]
Anne Gastinel (cello)
Nicholas Angelich (piano)
Gil Shaham (violin)
Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony/Paavo Jrvi
rec. 2015, Alte Oper Frankfurt (Concerto); 2017, Teldex Studios, Berlin (Trio)
Booklet notes in French & English
NAVE V5418 [55:08]

As with most Beethoven works today, recordings of the Triple Concerto are so thick on the ground that the raison d'tre for any new version, particularly a studio production, usually boils down to a ‘me too’ urge from one or more of the participants, often also with some stylistic barrow to push. Scanning through the booklet of this new CD, it seems cellist Anne Gastinel is its prime mover, as she takes pole position in the bios, provides background notes in the form of an interview, and dominates the discography at the rear of the booklet. Naturally, the results are all that matter, so were her impulses well placed? The answer, for me, is a mostly enthusiastic yes – one niggle aside, this is a top-notch Triple Concerto: energised, infectious, splendidly played, and joyful.

In her liner-note interview, Gastinel posits that the ideal solution to this work is for an existing trio to perform it, but ultimately each member’s solo credentials must come into play. Her choice of Gil Shaham and Nicholas Angelich as partners turns out to be an admirable one, as I’ve not heard such unanimity in a Triple Concerto since the Beaux Arts Trio’s 1977 Philips recording with Bernard Haitink and the LPO. Naturally Gastinel, Shaham and Angelich also shine in their individual parts, but even as a team, there’s always a first among equals, and to me there’s something about each of Gastinel’s entries which says “I own this performance!”. That’s not a bad thing, as her warm and faultless sonority prevails throughout. Shaham as ever is sweet-toned and fully in the groove, while Angelich makes subtly more of his often subsidiary piano part than is the norm. Their execution of the opening allegro’s coda is something to marvel at. Paavo Jrvi’s support with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony is whole-hearted, emphatic, but also finely nuanced, underpinned by Nave’s ideally balanced, gutsy recorded sound. In the Beethoven-on-steroids stakes, this would have to be a prime contender.

My only disappointment – and it would happen right at the end – is the clipping of the two final chords, which I found jarring and out of character with the rest of the performance. Whether this was a collective decision or conductor’s call I can only guess, but it seemed a case of the players commanding the last word ahead of Beethoven. In Shaham’s previous (2004) recording with David Zinman - certainly no slouch in modern performing practice - the final strokes get their full due, and with them, fitting emotional closure.

In the wake of the Triple Concerto, the Clarinet Trio may seem small beer, but it shouldn’t in the right hands. For this earlier Beethoven work, Anne Gastinel has Andreas Ottensamer on board, together with her sterling concerto partner, Nicholas Angelich. Somehow, though, the chemistry doesn’t work as well here. This is a strangely unfocussed reading, which may be partly due to the diffuse recording, but there is not the rhythmic surety of the concerto, nor the clarity of vision. While not lacking finesse, there’s a fussiness over details which clouds trajectory, and despite some passages of fine ensemble in, especially, the Adagio, the enduring impression is one of skittishness. Those seeking a fine recording of this work, in the more likely scenario that it’s not coupled with the Triple Concerto, should consider the Gaudier Ensemble on Hyperion, or the classic de Peyer, du Pr and Barenboim account on EMI/Warner.

In the final analysis, this is one of those new releases that promises so much, but then falls a little too short. The rousing progress of the Triple Concerto is as enthralling as I’ve experienced, only to be let down, for me, by the clanger at its very conclusion, followed by a Clarinet Trio lacking the grip and unanimity those same players bring to the concerto. A pity, really.

Des Hutchinson



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