Sitting by the fire the other evening, I turned on the radio and my attention was caught by the piece of music being played. It was only slightly familiar to me, and I was impressed by a cellist playing in the upper registers of the instrument. Must be Beethoven, I thought, certain moments sounding unmistakably of the master. As I began to suspect, it was the Triple Concerto – Violin, cello, piano and orchestra.
Since I know that this piece is on the program for the next Symphony of the Redwoods concert, this prompted me to go to YouTube and search for some recordings in order to get to know this piece better. One of the joys of playing with the Symphony for me has always been that the rehearsal period is spread over 2 – 3 weeks, allowing one time to really get to know the piece. I’m really sorry that I won’t be playing in this concert (my return to California isn’t till March) – two such great works in one program, the Beethoven Triple and Brahms 1st Symphony. If you’re planning to go to the concert it might be interesting to do a bit of research yourself.
One recording I found that I really liked is by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic. This piece has never achieved the same popularity as the violin concerto or the piano concertos, maybe partly because it falls slightly uncomfortably between the orchestral and chamber music worlds. Most of the interest is in the interplay between the three members of the trio, with the orchestra playing a less prominent role than in the solo concertos. The thing that I found interesting in this recording is that Daniel Barenboim is conducting the piece from the piano. This is a fairly standard way of doing things in baroque music and sometimes with Mozart, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done in a work of Beethoven’s era. For me it emphasized the chamber music aspect of the piece, with the members of the BP obviously comfortable with the arrangement, and sensitive to the least raising of an eyebrow for a gesture. It certainly makes compulsive viewing! You can find an interesting article about Barenboim’s relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic here:
The relationship between the three soloists is one of the most interesting aspects of this piece, and I’m sure the audience in Cotton Auditorium won’t be disappointed in this respect. All three soloists will be well known to anyone who comes to the Mendocino Music Festival, Roy Malan having been the Concert Master of the Festival Orchestra for many years, and Stephen Harrison the principal cellist, while Miles Graber has been involved with the piano series and chamber music concerts.
I asked cellist Stephen Harrison for his thoughts on playing this piece, and he replied:
“The most boring thing I can say about the Triple is that the cello part is very challenging. Much of the part is in the higher registers (where oxygen is scarce). There’s a lot of rhythmic discipline involved in learning the part; as part of a trio playing either in actual or rhythmic unison much of the time, you have to put away the notion of any soloist’s prerogative. But the opportunity to play that glorious melody in the slow movement is worth it all! Such a soaring tune…. ” and on the subject of recordings: “I think the one with the Maisky family is fun, if only because Mischa Maisky is playing it with his children. (She must have worked with Argerich; she looks like a young version of her!) ”