Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Well-behaved Beethoven

Beethoven: Triple concerto and British folksongs (Decca)


There are many reasons why Beethoven’s triple concerto usually fails on record. Most are to do with ego. In a regular concerto, there is one soloist, a conductor and an orchestra. In Beethoven’s triple, there is a pianist, violinist and cellist and they all have to agree among themselves before the conductor and orchestra get involved. It can take hours of conflict before everyone is satisfied.

The most notorious recording involves three Russians — Richter, Oistrakh, Rostropovich — and the Berlin dictator, Herbert von Karajan, who spent most of his session time worrying how they would look on the album cover. Oddly, perhaps due to the suppurating tension, this is also the most successful version of the triple concerto in present circulation.

The latest assault presents three youngish British soloists of unequal temperament and impeccable good manners. Nicola Benedetti, 36, is a violinist at the top of her game who is also Edinburgh Festival chief. Benjamin Grosvenor, 31, is a brilliant pianist awaiting international breakthrough. Sheku Kanneh-Mason, 25, is struggling to shake off the Royal Wedding Cellist tag. You can imagine how the Decca planning meeting went: let’s put on the best of British in Beethoven. If only it were so easy.

Try as the soloists might, they struggle to stimulate much interest in a musical conversation where none of them is prepared to seize the lead and confront the others. The result is a decent effort, lacking in character, devoid of tension. The Philharmonia Orchestra comes out tops. 

The album fillers are more imaginative. A hatful of Beethoven’s British folksong arrangements for voice, piano violin and cello are elevated by Gerald Finley’s burnished baritone and elegant phrasing. Far more enjoyable than those awkward Fischer-Dieskau sets of long ago. Finley is not an artist who says please and thank you before grabbing a line by the hair. Others could learn from his gumption.

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