This now stands as one of the very finest versions of a work which at last looks like being appreciated, not as a rarity, but as an important pillar of the Beethoven canon.
Since the Beaux Arts Trio last recorded Beethoven's Triple Concerto in 1977 (Philips, 4/78—nla) two of its personnel have changed, with Ida Kavafian and Peter Wiley taking over from Isidore Cohen and Bernard Greenhouse. That leaves Menahem Pressler, now in his seventies, as the ever-lively survivor. Not only does Pressler's playing sparkle even more brightly in the concerto than before, he is an inspired protagonist in the Choral Fantasia, setting the pattern of joyfulness in this performance from his opening improvisation-like solo onwards. Read more
The other prime mover is Kurt Masur, who has rarely conducted more electrifying Beethoven performances on disc. The opening tutti of the concerto establishes a speed markedly faster than usual, and if the three soloists modify it slightly, the characteristic which marks this performance out, distinguishing it not just from the previous Beaux Arts one, but from most others, is its urgency. The overall timings of each movement are markedly less than before, and though in the finale even the Beaux Arts' virtuosity is stretched to the limit, there is no feeling of breathlessness, simply exhilaration. The evenness and clarity of Pressler's articulation in scales and passagework is a delight. As for the brief central meditation, led—like most main themes in this work—by the cello, it flows very warmly and naturally, with Peter Wiley finding an even wider dynamic range than his predecessor, down to pianissimos which have one's ears pricking at their beauty. Wiley is just as rich and positive an artist as Pressler, and if the tone of Ida Kavafian's violin is not ideally sweet, she is on the whole warmer than Isidore Cohen was on the earlier recording. This now stands as one of the very finest versions of a work which at last looks like being appreciated, not as a rarity, but as an important pillar of the Beethoven canon.
The Choral Fantasia is hardly likely to establish itself in a comparable niche, but this performance is most persuasive, largely by taking the writing a little less seriously than most. The variations on the corny main theme are regularly pointed with engaging wit, not just by Pressler but by the wind soloists, and the brass sound is glorious. It is rather like having the choral finale of the Ninth anticipated with tongue-in-cheek. The soloists and chorus are set behind the orchestra, and if the initial impression is that the soloists are too distant, the focus is so crisp and clear one quickly accepts them (rightly) as part of the chorus. Balances are always difficult, not just in this work but notoriously in the Triple Concerto. The soloists are well-focused in the front, with the orchestra warm and full behind, though in a way typical of Leipzig sound the bass is at times boomy and thick. The coupling is attractive and apt, though at 52 minutes hardly generous.'
Fantasia in C minor, Op. 80 "Choral Fantasy"by Ludwig van Beethoven Performer:
Menahem Pressler (Piano)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Classical Written: 1808; Vienna, Austria Language: German
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