Notes and Editorial Reviews
Triple Concerto in C
The Creatures of Prometheus
Douglas Boyd, cond; Musikcollegium Winterthur;
CLAVES 50-1001 (60:03)
Timing is not the most favorable for this new release. Had it only arrived a few months earlier, it would have received a very warm welcome indeed. Unfortunately, it was trumped by Neeme Järvi’s
very recent Chandos recording of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the Poseidon Trio and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in a performance so special that it went straight to the Hall of Fame section in
33:6 without ever passing “Go.” Actually, I have to admit that wasn’t supposed to happen. It was what you might call an editorial malfunction, well-deserved perhaps, but an accident nonetheless.
The Berolina Trio, founded in 2004, is new to me. In fact, unless you’ve seen and heard the group live, it’s likely new to you too, for this is its first recording with orchestra. It is not the ensemble’s debut album, however, for there appears to be a 2007 release of Haydn and Brahms trios available as a download from iTunes. The members—Krzysztof Polonek, violin; Katarzyna Polonek, cello; and Nikolaus Resa, piano—as you must have guessed from their names, are of Czech and German background. They’ve worked with members of the Alban Berg, Vermeer, and Artis quartets, as well as with the Trio Jean Paul and renowned cellist Anner Bylsma. In 2007, the ensemble won the Cracow International Chamber Music Competition, and winning the Marguerite Dütschler prize at the Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad in Switzerland earned the Berolina the invitation to record this album.
In every way that matters—technical address, ensemble unity, matching of tonal characteristics, and musicality—the Berolina is outstanding. Douglas Boyd is no stranger to these pages, either. Many of his recordings with his Manchester Camerata and other orchestras have been reviewed here, including by the undersigned an Avie disc of Mozart symphonies in 30:3. He manages the forces of Winterthur’s Musikcollegium deftly, not holding back in the orchestral tuttis, but giving the trio plenty of breathing space in the sections where the three instrumentalists play solo or together. As I said above, if only this CD had come to me before the Chandos, it would definitely have earned a top recommendation for the Triple Concerto.
What makes this new Claves release unusual is its coupling of excerpts from Beethoven’s
The Creatures of Prometheus
. The work, dating from 1801, was the composer’s introduction to Vienna’s theater scene and one of his earliest successes. The follow-up, his opera
, would not go nearly so smoothly when it first hit the stage a few years later in 1805. But then anorexic ballerinas were less apt to intimidate Beethoven than obese sopranos.
Little actually is known of the ballet’s first production. The idea came from Italian choreographer Salvatore Viganò, who usually composed his own music. However, this was not to be some light terpsichorean
. It was slated for presentation at Vienna’s Burgtheater with the Empress Maria Theresa herself in attendance. The subject, heroic and allegorical, was heavy stuff. Thus a serious composer of Beethoven’s stature was tapped for the job of scoring the music to Viganò’s choreography.
Except for its rousing overture, which features prominently on recordings, most of the ballet’s numbers are not exactly choice Beethoven, which probably explains why there are comparatively few recordings of the complete work, which lasts just over an hour. Beethoven’s attitude seems to have been “Why waste good music on an audience coming for the dancing?”
In addition to the overture, Boyd includes four numbers—the Introduction, and Nos. 1, 5, and 16. The one memorable tune that Beethoven salvaged and recycled is of course the one that occurs in the ballet’s final number. It’s the tune that’s heard in the Contredanses, WoO 14 (though it’s not certain if it was the contredanses or
for which it was originally written, since both date from pretty much the same time) and then again in the 15 Variations and Fugue for Piano, op. 35, and in the finale of the “Eroica” Symphony. For some reason, commentators never seem to mention it, but the same tune, or a very close approximation of it, is also heard in the finale to the composer’s F-Major String Quartet, op. 18/1.
This is a delightful disc, and but for Järvi’s and the Poseidon’s Chandos release beating it to the punch in the Triple Concerto, it shoulda, coulda, woulda received top billing. Recommended anyway.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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