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Satirino records · Beethoven - Triple & Piano Concerto N°3

Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor Op. 37
Concerto for Violin, Violoncello & Piano, 'Triple concerto', Op. 56

Barry Douglas   piano & direction
Camerata Ireland
Chee-Yun   violin
Andrés Díaz   'cello

Satirino records SR073 - released on 9th November 2007

Recorded at 
The Mahoney Hall, The Helix, Dublin . 8 & 9 v 2007
Recording Producer
Michael Haas
Balance engineer
Koichiro Hattori
Assistant balance engineer
Sebastian Schubert
Postproduction & Editing
Simon Fox-Gál & Sebastian Schubert
le monde est petit
'Wall on Cliffs of Moher ’ © Alen MacWeeney / CORBIS
Camerata Ireland - Eugene Langan www.eugenelangan.com
Barry Douglas - Mark Harrison

Press reviews

'Douglas concentrates on both beauty of tone and modesty of ensemble in these two Beethoven staples; rarely does he permit the Steinway to intrude onto the ensemble mix as to throw the dynamic weight entirely upon his own part. Balanced phrases mark the C minor concerto conception, a liquid articulation that dances delicately while offering Beethoven's towering sense of lyrical drama. Douglas saves his natural vulcanism for the first movement cadenza.'
Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition 

'The most successful of the series, Concerto N°3, is delightfully assertive.... the Triple Concerto is exemplary.  The impeccable piano playing of Barry Douglas retains the charm that has been evident for many years.  His musicianship and his intelligent interpretations are in stark contrast to the horrors that we have had to endure recently.'  [Grimaud, Pletnev, Mustonen]
Etienne Moreau, Diapason, février 2008

Liner Note

Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor Op. 37
Allegro con brio
Rondo: Allegro

For those interested in the nature of genius, Beethoven left a rich resource of paper-trails. Not only were there working manuscripts but also sketchbooks, notebooks and letters, not to mention the lively testimonies of several contemporaries who heard the composer premiere the piece.

A 1796 notebook contains revealing evidence of its first seeds: there’s a remark about a C minor concerto having a ‘kettledrum at the cadenza’. Few who know the piece will not instantly remember the moment: downward arpeggios on the piano are quietly, surprisingly and beautifully accompanied by the opening theme played only on two kettledrums. This magical effect is just one of the many surprises that Beethoven delighted in at this most fertile stage of his career, in this case a colouristic rather than a formal one.

The concerto was first performed in 1803 but the actual dating of its genesis is unclear. However much the filiation of sketchbooks and manuscripts may give a clue, the timpani reference surely shows us that it was a work in his mind over the turn of the eighteenth century.

In mood and in a few details it harks back to Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto which had acutely impressed Beethoven during the composition of this concerto in the same key. For example, the use of a short arpeggiated motive is common both to Mozart’s and Beethoven’s C minor concertos as is the idea of the piano adding more material after the cadenza. More fundamental points may still delight modern-day audiences as much as they did the Viennese listeners of his day, so steeped in the concerto variants of Sonata-Form that every deviation from the accepted and inherited was a part of the pleasure of listening to new music.

A particular aspect of the composer’s innovations at this time was his increasing habit of introducing contrasts of mood from the very first bar. No longer were first subjects ‘masculine’ (read aggressive) and second subjects ‘feminine’ (read lyrical). In Beethoven’s first subject for this concerto we have the unison, arpeggiated motive of the opening immediately answered by a harmonised, legato phrase, perfectly balanced, but yearning and expressive.

Technological advances in piano manufacture also played their part in the composer’s development. In particular, the use of the sustaining pedal seems to have fascinated Beethoven in the early years of the nineteenth century, the very time he was composing the Waldstein sonata, with its extraordinary blurring of the harmonies of the last movement by means of the sustaining pedal. A similar device is used in the second movement of the third concerto where the first phrase—including changes of harmony–is indicated to be played with the sustaining pedal down constantly. It reminds us of a similar instruction in the so-called ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. Did Beethoven really mean this magical opening to be played in a haze? I think not. A look at Beethoven’s pedalling before and after would indicate that he wanted legato across the phrase, but with changes to separate the harmony.

The movement is in the remote key of E major: the mediant major of the tonic key to put it in technical terms. Mediant shifts affected music in many ways in the first decade of the new century (we hear another example in the finale of the Triple Concerto, where Beethoven engineers the first theme to lead to a repeat in the mediant major). But what is effect upon the listener of this seemingly advanced technical device? In a word, it is surprise, a jolt to another plane of existence, a new world. Nowhere is this more acute than in the sound of the finely-balanced piano chord which follows the affirmative home-key chords of the first movement. Suddenly the new chord, which has not a note in common with the home key of the first movement, and is exquisitely voiced by Beethoven, takes us to another place, before the finale carries us back. This is not to say that Mozart and Haydn didn’t use similar techniques: they did. But Beethoven built on their foundations and here, in this work so preoccupied with colour, uses them to magical effect.

The satisfying Rondo has few surprises, but its opening theme takes us back to the ‘Sturm und Drang’ of the first movement by its insistence on the notes A flat and B natural, suggesting the tense chord of the diminished seventh, often grindingly sounded over the dominant note G, thus producing a semitonal clash. The tension is eased by a second theme in the major key introduced a little more mellifluously by the clarinet. Buried within is a clever little fugue based on the initial theme: plenty of tricks to delight the audience here.

A final point concerns the ‘fixity’ of the concerto, reminding us how improvisation was germane to Beethoven’s concerto procedure. A testimony from the composer and conductor Ignaz von Seyfried who turned pages for Beethoven in the concerto, illuminates the point:

In playing the concerto movements he asked me to turn the pages for him; but—heaven help me!—that was easier said than done. I saw almost nothing but empty pages; at the most on one page or the other a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me were scribbled down to serve as clues for him for he played nearly all of the solo part from memory, since, as was so often the case, he had not had time to put it all down on paper. He gave me a secret glance whenever he was at the end of one of the invisible passages and my scarcely concealed anxiety not to miss the decisive moment amused him greatly, and he laughed heartily at the jovial supper we ate afterwards.

How interesting it would be to know exactly how this process worked: whether everything was clear in Beethoven’s mind, or whether there was an element of spontaneity.

Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Piano, 'Triple concerto', Op. 56
Rondo alla Polacca

The so-called Triple Concerto is perhaps best thought of as a concerto for Piano Trio and orchestra. Infrequently programmed to this day, the pleasures of the piece are perhaps an acquired taste where persistence brings rewards. One critical viewpoint on the work maintains that it is flawed precisely because of its unusual layout which demands that all three players have to have their turn at playing the various themes presented, thus attenuating the form of the piece to the point where it loses its concision. Another more fruitful view might be to relate it to the composer’s particular colouristic interests at this point in his career. Here, surely, lies the charm of this piece. Rather than falling apart, Beethoven’s form takes its time to unravel, and the listener may delight in material repeated, bathed in a new light as it passes through an ever-changing kaleidoscope of textures.

This piece dates from what we might call one stage on in Beethoven’s ‘middle’ period. It is contemporary with the Rasumovsky Quartets; the piano sonatas op. 53, 54 and 57; the Eroica and the Fourth Symphony. Beethoven also began work on Fidelio at this time. Beside such durable masterpieces, the Triple Concerto seemed something of a poor relation from the outset. Contemporary accounts of the first performance, in 1808, suggest that it was ill prepared and Beethoven’s biographer Anton Schindler remarks that the piece was greeted without applause. A suggestion that it may have been composed for a private performance at the palace of the Archduke Rudolph must remain speculative, credible though it is that this concertante combination of forces may have resulted from the suggestion of a private patron such as this Archduke, a favourite pupil of Beethoven.

The first movement grows from a cello motive, quiet and low at the outset, and rising in sequences. A second theme on the violins is curiously linked to this opening material, sharing its opening rhythm. After this comes a tune which inevitably reminds the listener of yodelling: was this some kind of private joke? Whatever the case, a textural point and a question of leadership emerge in this movement which grows out of the darkness, and in which the cellist is the undisputed leader and where the pianist—speculatively the Archduke himself—was inclined to display. He does so in several cadenza-like passages notable for their somewhat classical, Mozartian figurations. In keeping with other middle-period works, Beethoven is constantly developing material in unexpected places: here the coda has a stormy passage which introduces a new texture into the work, raising the first movement to a new expressive level. Listen out for a theme which seems to allude to a passage from the Third Piano Concerto, in the same key, but played by the cello just after the above-mentioned storm in the coda.

The relatively short slow movement relegates the pianist to the role of accompanist, and once again the cello leads the proceedings, but now as partner to the solo violin, both of them introducing a lyrically ornamented melody sotto voce. Despite this relegation, the pianist nonetheless explores the various registers of the piano in texturally imaginative ways, in particular giving a foretaste of some of the upper-register garlanding which is such a prominent feature of the Fourth Piano Concerto. The string writing shows Beethoven at his most lyrical, and several have remarked that it is in this piece that we have the strongest hint of the cello concerto that Beethoven never wrote, but that would have complemented his superb sonatas for cello and piano which are for many—and not only cellists—among the finest chamber music the composer ever wrote.

The Polacca Rondo which closes the concerto employs a Polonaise rhythm and is interpolated with various episodes which inevitably lead back to the deliberately catchy opening theme, its anacrusis giving a firm footing to the rhythmic drive, or else to other catchy materials in the home key. The piano entry has one of these, a five-note motive with a characteristic grace-note; the violin has another, this time characterised by a ‘scotch-snap’ rhythm; and the cello has its turn too, with a motive characterised by trills. How cleverly, in all these instances, Beethoven keeps the mood lively by a series of rhythmic quirks: the psychological pattern of a serious first movement; a lyrical centre movement and an off-the-ground finale was an overarching pattern often used and only occasionally departed from.

The movement has been criticised for overlong episodes in the home key and predictable episodes in the relative minor. How can we rally to Beethoven’s defence? A hypothesis which has much going for it but which cannot be proven lies in the ‘Archduke’ theory: that this was perhaps a piece to be enjoyed by players in a private performance. An audience who knew the performers would get much out of seeing everyone have a go, even if they were talented amateurs rather than established experts. Such pieces are in no way inferior. Perhaps the most telling examples are the piano duets of Schubert, by comparison to his greatest essays overlong. But they give the players the chance of a ‘second go’, and the opportunity to listen to each other before they contribute their entry. Perhaps one day the full story of the Triple Concerto will be revealed.

Richard Langham Smith


Chee-Yun has performed with many of the world's foremost orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, and the Toronto, Houston, and the National Symphony Orchestras. Among her career highlights are performances at the Kennedy Center's gala farewell to Mstislav Rostropovich, the Mostly Mozart Festival's tour of Japan, a national tour with the San Francisco Symphony, performances across three continents of the Penderecki Concerto No. 2 with the composer at the podium, the premiere of Lou Harrison's Suite for Violin and String Orchestra, a performance with Michael Tilson Thomas in the inaugural season of Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall and the US premiere of the Penderecki Sonata No. 2 with pianist Barry Douglas at the Kennedy Center.

Chee-Yun's numerous recordings include the Penderecki Violin Concerto No. 2 and six CDs for the Denon label, the most recent of which includes the violin sonatas of Brahms and Strauss. In addition to her active performance and recording schedule, Chee-Yun provides master classes around the world. She currently serves as Professor of String Studies at New York University.

In 1993, Chee-Yun returned to Korea to receive the "Nan Pa" award, that country's highest musical honor.

Chee-Yun's home page can be viewed at www.chee-yun.net

Andrés Díaz

The Chilean cellist Andrés Díaz won the First Prize in the 1986 Naumburg International Cello Competition. His numerous orchestral appearances include the Atlanta Symphony, American Symphony, Chicago Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestras, as well as tours in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Hawaii, and Canada. He has also appeared in Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Russia and New Zealand. His recital performances, in particular with the late pianist Samuel Sanders, include Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Merkin Hall in New York, the Philadelphia Arts Museum, Atlanta’s Spivey Hall and Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, as well as summer festival appearances at Santa Fe, La Jolla, Marlboro, Ravinia, Bravo! Colorado, Spoleto, Saratoga and Tanglewood.

Andrés Díaz gave the world premiere of Gunther Schuller’s Concerto for cello and orchestra and performed the American premiere of Frank Bridge’s Oration for cello and orchestra. He has also premiered Thomas Oboe Lee’s cello concerto (written expressly for him) and he gave the Boston and Washington, D.C. premieres of Leon Kirchner’s ‘Music for Cello and Orchestra’.

Andrés Díaz has made numerous recordings for the Dorian label including several with the late pianist Samuel Sanders – Brahms sonatas, Russian Romantics, ‘American Visions’ featuring works of Barber, Bernstein and Foote, the Villas-Lobos cello concerto No. 2, and most recently the six Bach Suites.

Andrés Díaz's home page can be viewed at www.andresdiaz.com

Track list

Piano Concerto no. 3 in C minor Op. 37 [35'52]

1 - Allegro con brio [16’58]
2 - Largo [9’57]
3 - Rondo: Allegro [8’57] 

Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Piano (Triple concerto) Op. 56 [34’46] 

4 - Allegro [17’23]
5 - Largo [4’40]
6 - Rondo alla Polacca [12’43] 

Total CD 70’54