The nature of the recorded sound complements the nature of the performances. Detail is excellent and the left to right spread is both wide and natural. As in the majority of recordings, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is presented as for piano trio with orchestral accompaniment. The instruments of the orchestra are clear enough but the ear is always conscious of the extra ‘presence’ of the soloists; nevertheless this approach to balance is acceptable. I particularly like the lucid tone of the piano – the delightful combination of clarity and delicacy at the final flourish of the opening movement typifies the gracefulness of Dejan Lazić’s contribution. Beethoven gives the cello much distinctive melodic material, given a very positive reading by Sol Gabetta. There is equally firm but admirably elegant violin-playing by Giuliano Carmignola.
Though not entirely ‘period’ the approach to the music seems compatible with today’s notion of early-nineteenth-century performing practice. I can imagine this trio giving perceptive performances of Haydn, Beethoven or Schubert. After a firm reading of the opening movement the soloists bring much sensitivity to the brief central Largo. The gentility of the opening bars (a remarkable foreshadowing of ‘At the Castle Gate’ from Sibelius’s music for Pelléas et Mélisande) engenders a feeling of reassurance; this is a suitably gentle interpretation that flows calmly into the Finale which here is comfortingly cheerful and unhurried.
The Overtures display the nature of Giovanni Antonini’s view of orchestral texture which is clear-cut and notable for incisive chording, in fact full-orchestra chords are never given more than their written value (shades of Toscanini). This means that Coriolan is exceptionally forceful. Antonini tends towards fast tempos and this seven-minute Coriolan (a speed chosen also by metronome-conscious Riccardo Chailly) takes on an impatient character. There are many ways of interpreting this music and perhaps the most remarkable was by Wilhelm Furtwängler in a wartime recording which takes nine minutes. In the case of Egmont, drama is enhanced by Antonini’s tightly-clipped phrasing of the introduction. By contrast the conductor is very weighty at the start of Prometheus before allowing the main Allegro section to fly.
The clarity of the recording brings into focus one or two unusual aspects. Opinions can differ about the positioning of instruments in an orchestra but I was a little taken aback by the opening of the Concerto when I heard the bass strings emanating from the far left – a positioning similar to, but more obvious than, that favoured by Klemperer. This layout does not always convince and I encountered it at a concert recently when the ear captured little to the right of the audio spectrum other than the second violins.
The admirable definition is also responsible for making it particularly noticeable that the layout of the orchestra differs between that provided for the Overtures and the way we hear the Concerto. In the latter the timpani (notably well recorded throughout) are placed centrally but in the Overtures they are to be heard on the right.
Beethoven is played here by a smaller orchestra than is conventional for this composer nowadays. Antonini’s penchant for vigorous crispness bodes well for his projected complete recording of all Haydn’s Symphonies. The recorded sound is strong on detail and it is ideal that the timpanist should have used hard sticks; the strings do not overlay their parts with vibrato and the woodwind is well defined. With the minor exception of a somewhat mild-sounding piccolo in Egmont, this is outstanding recorded quality although I wish the instruments had stayed in the same position throughout.