While everyone was supposed to be thinking thoughts of Shubert, in observance of the 150th anniversary of that composer's death, Quintessencxe, in a single release, brought out 10 records of Beethoven's orchestral, chamber-music and piano works, including all seven of his mature concertos. Curiously, no major work of Beethoven's had appeared on this reissue label before (and there is still none by Shubert); the omission has been corrected rather grandly, not only in terms of instant quantity, but with a selectivity that has brought us some real gems.
The most treasurable item here is the justly celebrated 1971 recording of the "Archduke" trio by the Suk Trio of Prague (PMC-7082). The distinguished Czech ensemble rerecorded the "Archduke" in 1975, in sessions taped digitally by Denon and quadraphonically by Supraphon; the earlier version, which has circulated here on various labels from time to time, strikes me as a slightly more persuasive performance, and it has never sounded better than in this handsome remastering. It is a stunning value, and the cassette deition (P4-7082) would have to qualify as the most "basic" chamber music recording yet issued in that format.
The Suk Trio is heard again in the Triple Concerto, a much more recent recording with the Czech Philharmonic under Kurt Masur (PMC-7077); cassette P4C-7077). This warm-hearted work has been recorded by numerous "all-star" teams, most notably by David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (Angel S-36727). But there have been only two previous recordings by regularly established trios-a now deleted Angel disc by the Oistrakh Trio with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting and a recent Philips (9500.382) by the Beaux Arts Trio with Haitink and the London Philharmonic. I have always felt that this is not so much a work for three soloists as actually for a trio with orchestra, combining chamber music with symphonic music, and I like the different sort of aura given off by performances so conceived. Since the Suk Trio brings all the elegance and full integration of its "Archduke" performance to this one of the Triple Concerto, and Kurt Masur provides the most convincing leadership, this is now my choice among all recordings of the work, irrespective of price. The sound is first-rate.
The five piano concertos are played by Claudio Arrau with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Alceo Galliera (PMC/P4C-7071 through 7075); these EMI recordings, formerly available on Angel, were made a decade earlier than Arrau's Philips set of the concertos with Haitink, but are just about as impressive. The Fourth is in mono, but the others are stereo, and the overtures "Coriolan," "Leonore No. 3," "Egmont" and "Prometheus," respectively, played by the Berlin Philharmonic under Rudolf Kempe, serve as fillers on the first four discs. Even at the $3.98 list price, there is strong competition from such pianists as Solomon, Katchen and Casdesus, but if the overtures are more attractive than the fillers (or lack of fillers) ons the competing discs, sor if cassettes are preferred, these are safe bets.
Henryk Szeryng's mid-60s recording of the Violin Concerto, with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, sounds better on PMC-7076 than it did on domestic Philips. But the performance, emphasizing the work's lyricism (which hardly needs emphasis) is, for all its elegance, rather on the sleepy side.
Eugen Jochum and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra are heard in the Fifth Symphony and the " On PMC/P4C-7081 are Wilhelm Kempff's mono recordings, also from DG, of the Piano Sonatas Nos. 8 ("Pathetique"), 14 ("Moonlight"), 24, and 26 ("Less Adieux"). These are probably more interesting performances than Kempff's subsequent stereo remakes, and the sound stands up quite well: a satisfying package , and an excellent buy.
On PMC/P4C-7081 are Wilhelm Kempff's mono recordings, also from DG, of the Piano Sonatas Nos. 8 ("Pathetique"), 14 ("Moonlight"), 24, and 26 ("Less Adieux"). These are probably more interesting performances than Kempff's subsequent stereo remakes, and the sound stands up quite well: a satisfying package , and an excellent buy.