Beethoven’s Triple Concerto – No. 23 in our collection

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a German composer and pianist. For many people he is the defining figure in the history of Western music. He was certainly a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music. Beethoven’s innovative compositions combined vocals and instruments and he widened the scope of the sonata, the symphony, the concerto and the string quartet. To this day Beethoven remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers and many of his works are very popular both as concert pieces and as recordings.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven’s Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Cello in C major, Op. 56, more commonly known as the Triple Concerto, was composed in 1803 and published a year later. The choice of the three solo instruments effectively makes this a concerto for piano trio; though the piano part is relatively simple. Beethoven’s choice of piano, violin and cello appears to be unprecedented in the literature—”really something new,” he wrote to his publisher. There had been a popular genre in the Classical era known as the sinfonia concertante for two or more soloists with orchestral accompaniment, effectively a revamped model of the Baroque concerto grosso. For example, Mozart and Haydn have left splendid examples, but the particular combination of piano, violin, and cello seems never to have been tried before. The rarely heard (perhaps due to the cost of three soloists) and underrated Triple Concerto tends to be overshadowed by Beethoven’s other concertos. However, this three movement work, stands as a testament to the Beethoven’s skill as a composer and points the way to the lyricism of his Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 and his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61.

We have chosen a 1969 recording of this fascinating work performed by the Berliner Philharmoniiker conducted by Herbert von Karajan with three outstanding soloists.

EMI (now Warner Classics) planned for a long time to assemble this starry line-up of soloists, David Oistrakh (violin), Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) and Sviatoslav Richter (piano) with what was then the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the legendary Herbert von Karajan. Sometimes these star-studded casts disappoint – not here! The soloists give a strong performance that is full of charm and they make the most of  work’s contrasting sonorities, its interplay between soloists and orchestra, and its formal cohesion. The 1969 German recording is warm and spacious and the engineers have met the challenge of balancing the diverse performers really well. The soloists are subtly highlighted and there is an overall coherence to the sound.

Listen on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

View the other works in our collection.