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

Beethoven listed his Triple Concerto as being for ‘piano, violin, and cello’. Yet, the cello very often takes the lead among the soloists and is arguably somewhat more prominent. Moreover, the cello part is the most challenging, with that of the violin a bit less demanding and the piano’s quite manageable. So it is not surprising that Nave favours the cellist here, billing her first among her colleagues and providing an interview with only her in the album booklet. Yet, cellist Anne Gastinel, violinist Gil Shaham and pianist Nicholas Angelich play well together, as equals, with no one unduly attempting to capture the spotlight unless you consider Gastinel’s healthy tone a bit much at times. I didn’t but found her sometimes slightly more brawny style quite appropriate. Exchanges and interplay among this trio have a fluency and natural feel, a give-and-take manner – dominant here, demure there – that works nicely throughout.

As for the particulars in this performance, the first movement brims with energy and spirit, the music busy and exuding a sense of joy. The pacing, as throughout the work, is slightly on the brisk side. Gastinel’s first entry is suave and elegant, slightly understated too, but confident. Shaham joins in with a similarly measured and subtle approach, and then Angelich, perhaps even more modestly, comes in with a nice legato tone as notes delightfully ripple and effervesce. The three go on to deliver an account more likely to show finesse and subtlety than muscle or weight. Yet, the orchestra does provide a measure of muscle, which is all to the good, offering an effective contrast to the soloists’ more intimate style. After all, this concerto is part-chamber and part-concertante in nature, yielding a sense of both the delicate and the epic.

The brief second movement is nicely played, and the finale is an utter joy in its energy and elegance. It begins in the rhythmic style of a polonaise with a theme that could be a distant cousin of the first movement main theme in the Emperor Piano Concerto. It is phrased beautifully by both Gastinel and Shaham. These two brilliantly negotiate the rapid-fire passage work ahead and all three players provide a brilliant, rousing conclusion to finish the concerto. I stumbled across an interesting fact: Angelich was born in 1970 and both Gastinel and Shaham in 1971. Could their age similarity partly explain their evident good chemistry in this performance?

The Triple Concerto is a work that has drawn star-studded soloist teams in the past such as Rostropovich-Oistrakh-Richter, Ma-Perlman-Barenboim and Starker-Szeryng-Arrau, to name just three, and thus to go up against such formidable competition is a daunting task, to say the least. Yet, these three turn in a performance which stands easily among the better ones in this fairly crowded field. But the glory isn’t all theirs: from the very beginning of the work, and right through, you notice the spirited and precise playing by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, led by the consistently insightful Paavo Jrvi. In the end then, this is a highly successful effort by all the parties involved.

While the Triple Concerto is often heard, it is the least popular of his concertos, apart from the juvenile E flat major Piano Concerto. The Op. 11 Trio, for piano, clarinet (or violin) and cello, is even less popular, but far from neglected. For this work, Gastinel and Angelich are joined by Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic. Ottensamer is part of a family of clarinet players: his father, the late Ernst Ottensamer (1955-2017), was for many years the principal clarinet with the Vienna Philharmonic and its sibling the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Andreas’ brother, Daniel, is second principal with those Viennese orchestras. With such a background and impressive credentials, it’s no surprise that Ottensamer plays splendidly here, as do both Gastinel and Angelich. All three seem smitten by this spirited, youthful and happy Beethoven piece.

Their tempos fall into the moderate range, though the first movement comes across with plenty of spirit and energy. Dynamics are well judged, especially on the clarinet: notice how Ottensamer can subtly swell and then diminish his sound, always to great effect. The dreamy second movement is lovely in its songful serenity here and the players deftly capture both the playful and mischievous qualities of the finale. This is a fine performance of a Trio which may not have the gravitas and profundity of some other Beethoven works, but is nevertheless a worthy piece on its own fresh and imaginative terms. Nave offers clear and well-balanced sound in both works. Some will observe that there was room for yet another work on this disc. I’m not sure that’s a significant liability as what is on offer here is two attractive, if mostly light Beethoven works in very rewarding performances that won’t disappoint.

Robert Cummings
Previous review: Des Hutchinson


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