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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C major, Op 56 (arr. Reinecke) [35:26]
Carl REINECKE (1824-1910)
Piano Trio No 1, Op 38 (1851) [28:56]
Duccio Ceccanti (violin), Vittorio Ceccanti (cello), Matteo Fossi (piano)
First recording (Reinecke)
rec. February 2019, Piano et Forte Perugia, Italy
NAXOS 8.573969 [64:31]

Carl Reinecke was born in what is now Hamburg, in the German province of Altona, though technically he was a Dane, since, until 1864, the town was under Danish rule. He received all his musical instruction from his father, who was both a music teacher and music writer. Carl first devoted himself to the violin, but later turned his attention to the piano He also began to compose at the age of seven, and his first public appearance as a pianist was at the age of twelve. Seven years later he undertook his first concert-tour as a pianist, travelling through Sweden and Denmark, before settling for a good number of years in Leipzig, where his teachers were Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Liszt, and became friends with the first two.

Then, following another tour, he was appointed Court Pianist to Christian VIII in Copenhagen, where he stayed for a couple of years before relocating to Paris in 1848. Various other appointments followed, taking him to Cologne, Breslau, and ultimately Leipzig, where he was not only appointed director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra Concerts, but also held the posts of professor of composition, and piano respectively, at the Conservatorium. He never left Leipzig again, and, following his retirement in 1902, passed away at the age of 85, in 1910, during which time he largely devoted his time to composition.

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, was written in 1803, some sixty or so years before Reinecke published his arrangement for piano trio around 1866-67. It was the only concerto Beethoven wrote for multiple instruments. Reinecke has simply – though by no means an easy task – removed the orchestral accompaniment in its entirety, leaving the three soloists to cover this, as well as their own parts from Beethoven’s original.

There is, I feel, a subtle difference between Reinecke’s concept here, when compared with other transcriptions like the copious piano-duet versions of Beethoven’s String Quartets or Symphonies. Here, such arrangements allowed musicians, and often amateurs with sufficient keyboard skills, to share the original scores perhaps in local communities where putting together an orchestra to do any kind of justice to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, was just not viable – a good duet performance is largely preferable to a well-intentioned, but flawed orchestral attempt. Reinecke, on the other hand, seems more interested in contributing a ‘new’ work to the already burgeoning piano-trio repertoire, and intended for highly-accomplished professionals to perform, given its overall level of difficulty.

Recently I reviewed something in a similar vein, Ignaz Lachner’s reworking of two Mozart piano concertos, where the orchestra was replaced by string quartet and double bass, effectively resulting in a piano sextet texture, which worked very well in practice. If you had never heard either piano concerto in its original orchestral guise before, you’d probably scarcely bat an eyelid, were you to be told that it was a recently-discovered piano sextet by the composer. Reinecke’s piano-trio version, on the other hand, left me wanting. Lachner could always contrast a full five-part string sound, with the piano, in various permutations – perhaps using the upper or lower strings in various groupings, and always with the option of at least a three-part harmonic texture. With Reinecke, if the piano is silent, all he has left is essentially two-part harmony from violin and cello, together with an occasional bit of nifty double-stopping. But concertos basically rely on the contrast and dialogue between two forces – the soloist(s), and the orchestra, something that originated in the Baroque period. Reinecke doesn’t really have any room for manoeuvre, since his two forces are exactly the same, which eventually palls on the listener in a work that is over thirty-five minutes long.

The remaining piece on the CD is identified as a world-premiere recording, and features Reinecke’s Piano Trio No 1 in D major, from 1851. This opens with a short Lento introduction which, after a minute or so, breaks out into an Allegro ma non troppo, which, at the start, could equally have been written by Reinecke’s close-contemporary and friend, Mendelssohn. As the well-crafted and eminently tuneful movement unfolds, by the time the development section is reached, it is the presence of Schumann that becomes more strongly felt.

If everything has been fairly undistinguished to this point on the CD, it is as if Reinecke suddenly unlocks a different world, with the second movement – a lovely Intermezzo in B minor that seems to have moved forward considerably from the refinement of Mendelssohn, or presence of Schumann in the first movement, producing one of those little melodic treasures you occasionally encounter on your musical travels. It is so effective because of its sheer simplicity, where violin and cello weave their individually-expressive and poignant melodies over a highly-sympathetic accompaniment from the piano.

This is followed by an equally-effective Scherzo, marked Vivace ma non troppo in G major, where the composer’s particular reliance on paired-note articulations in all three instruments, considerably enhances the movement’s palpable fleetness of foot. Again it’s by far more Schumannesque than Mendelssohnian, and, with its comfortable triple-beat gait, reminds one at times of the last movement of the former’s piano concerto.

The Finale, marked Allegro brillante, continues much in the Schumannesque vein, especially which its march-like opening and main theme, and is harmonically the most forward-looking and inventive of the four movements. It is not without elements of cyclic design, where snippets from previous movements, especially the second Intermezzo are all tossed into the mix to good effect. There is always a sense that at any time a fugal section might develop, but Reinecke keeps his cards close to his chest, in this regard. In fact, while he doesn’t succumb to any hint of a fugato, the music still builds to a fine ending, by virtue of its own innate momentum. By comparison with some other piano trios written the same year – for example, Schumann (No 3), von Henselt, Bargiel, and Lalo – Reinecke’s offering is very much up there with the best of them.

This new release features string-playing brothers, Duccio and Vittorio Ceccanti, with pianist Matteo Fossi completing an all-Italian team. Having previously combined on a number of CDs, they share an excellent sense of balance, dynamics, and articulation the whole time. In Reinecke’s Trio, their performance emanates real enthusiasm and empathy in their overall interpretation of a hitherto unfamiliar work, something I felt was simply lacking in the Beethoven, especially the normally exuberant closing Rondo alla Polacca. The players did their best, but it felt as if they were ultimately on a hiding to nothing – something that was more down to the arrangement than the performers.

Their well-studied reading of Reinecke’s Trio certainly did the work proud, as well as scoring more than a few Brownie points for a composer, who is probably still best known for his Undine Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op 167. If I was also awarding bonus points for the performers, then I would single out the contribution of pianist Matteo Fossi, who not only had the lion’s share of the task, but whose playing and technique were felt to be of the highest order.

Had the CD opened with Reinecke’s piano trio, and then been followed by the composer’s equally-unfamiliar Piano Trio No 2 in C minor, Op 230, then this could really have been a much more attractive CD, and well-deserving of a far stronger endorsement than is presently the case.

However, if you’re looking for a bargain-priced version of the Triple Concerto in its original orchestral setting, then Naxos’s 1998 recording (8.554288) could be well worth checking out. It is coupled with Beethoven’s own arrangement of his Violin Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 61a, and features a strong and trusted trio of Naxos stalwarts – Jenő Jandó (piano), Dong-Suk Kang (violin), and Maria Kliegel (cello), with the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia under the baton of Béla Drahos.

Philip R Buttall

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