So the loaded question of how many piano concertos Beethoven wrote rears its head, as here we have his own transcription of his Violin Concerto for the piano. It is part of the Italian-based record company Odradek's policty of exploring the repertoire, coupled with lesser-known but fascinating vocal pieces by Beethoven and Mozart.
First up, though, a dramatic Beethoven "terzetto" (piece for three parts) for soprano, tenor, bass and orchestra, Tremate, empi, tremate (Tremble, you villains, tremble), Op. 116 of 1802, reminding us that it is , after all, Beethoven Year. It begins with a dramatic statement: a beautiful slow movement is interrupted by a forceful finale. It reminds us to look further than the familiar in Beethoven, and what delights that can bring (which inturn reminds us of the delights of Martino Tirimo's Beethoven box).
Here's the first movement of Tremate:
After that excitement, we need a bit of calm. The solo trio in Tremate is perfectly balances: Chen Reiss, soprano, Jan Petryka, tenor and Paul Armin Edelmann, baritone. Lovely that Reiss gets a chance to shine, along with our pianist, Javier Negrín, in Mozart's "Recitativo and Rondo" for soprano, piano and orchestra Ch'io mi scordi di te .... Non temer, amato beno, K 505 (of 1786) . The piece thus acts as a nice overlap of disc personnel, marrying singer with piano as soloists. Reiss is at the top of her form in this concert aria, and Thomas Rösner directs the Beethoven Philharmonie with pinpoint precision:
This is one of the finest performances of that concert aria in the catalogue, and so it is good to hear Javier Negrín's eloquence shine solo in Beethoven's arrangement of his Violin Concerto (which takes the opus number 61a). The concerto includes an extensive cadenza by Beethoven, which is one more than the violin concerto itself does (and the piano cadenza includes a part for timpani also!). And how fascinating to hear the delicate left-hand additions to that first solo, high entry. Here's the first movement with Negrín and Rösner:
... but of course we need to compare and contrast. So many performances of the Beethoven Violin Concerto played on a violin, of course; which one to pick. Well, I guess we're all imprinted by the first we performance we got to know, and for me it was Perlman and Giulini with the Philharmonia (on LP - big black round things). So here we are:
The ornaments of line in the slow movement sound, to my ears at least, just as effective on piano; perhaps the opening of the finale loses something in lightness, but the first repeat of the theme in a higher register contains another wonderful left-hand surprise, and there's plenty of incident later to keep you amused, especially when delivered with such a sense of grace as Negrín manages:
This is absolutely not the only version of the piano transcription: perhaps most famously, Barenboim recorded it. But the programming here is both stimulating and unique; the sound is fabulous, and the orchestra on top form.
Something new for Beethoven year!