Review – Beethoven’s Ghost

6th July, 2020 | Concert Reviews



Part of the celebration of Beethoven’s 250th, (1770 – 1827) this is a most glorious concert with luscious, exquisite playing. Led by Kathryn Selby on piano, the trio also included Harry Ward on violin and Timo-Veikko Valve on cello in an all-Beethoven program of three of the composer’s works – a special treat at any time, but especially given the current situation with the Covid pandemic.

Each work was given a fascinating introduction by one of the three players, putting the work in historical context.
First up was his Opus 1 – Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor (1793-95 ) dedicated to Prince Karl von Lichnowsky .It is considered one of Beethoven’s earliest masterpieces and was worked on both in Bonn and Vienna .
The first movement was brisk and flurried , the piano skipping breathlessly , the violin and cello hurriedly joining. The melodies surged and eddied, quieter more lyrical moments contrasted with intense , earnest discussion. The piano cascades and ripples throughout leading to a flourishing finish. The cello has a few featured short solos , hinting at the development of Beethoven’s later trios.

The second movement was softer, circular and pulsating, with an aching violin by Ward and bubbling piano.

The third movement was a great contrast in mood , far more ‘ bouncy’ in mood, ( it is a cross between a minuet and a scherzo) with an emphatic opening of the circular discussion between the trio and Selby on the piano showing off skittering up and down the keyboard.

The last movement was very energetic and had a dramatic opening. The piano was breathlessly insistent. Bustling sections contrasted with far more reflective ones , leading to a soft , almost fading away conclusion with ascending pianissimo scales.

More than twenty years later Beethoven rearranged this work as a string quartet, his Op.104.

Then we heard the composer’s own arrangement of his second Symphony arranged for trio ( 1806 )

In this work we can hear how Beethoven is transitioning to his later grumbling style of work. And listen/look out for the abrupt changes of dynamic markings. In this arrangement Beethoven has the piano play a fast ‘tremolo’ of chords or arpeggios to represent a huge gathering of furiously playing string musicians.

The first movement began very strongly, Selby on piano emphatically stating the melody and the violin and cello supporting with very fast accompaniment. In some ways this is a sharp, spiky turbulent discussion between the three, the piano skipping in front leading to an assertive ending.

The lively second movement was shimmering yet with growling undertones. The piano begins the soft, pulsating opening . In this floating , lyrical movement the violin and cello mostly lead the group discussion but Selby on piano exquisitely interrupts a lot . At times the mood is turbulentand whirling, and the movement ends rather abruptly . It is one of the composer’s longest symphonic slow movements with allusions to the influence of pastoral and folk music.

The third movement is again dominated by Selby on piano who leaps and bounds breathlessly, accompanied by flurries on strings.

The fourth movement begins with an emphatic opening on piano, Selby throughout rippling and sparkling, breathlessly insistent, with turbulent flurries by the trio leading to the roiling, scampering end.

And finally his Piano Trio No. 5 in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1 nicknamed the “Ghost” .( 1808) dedicated to Countess Marie Erdödy.

The ‘Ghost’ nickname comes from the composer Carl Czerny who in 1842 suggested the second movement was possibly inspired by the Ghost of Hamlet’s father. Another influence is the witches from Macbeth.

The first movement was an animated discussion between the trio, led by Selby on piano. The melody is taken and developed, with long sustained notes on the strings, the piano scintillating and spinning. The mood becomes soft and fragile then jumps to a quirky, confident ending.

The second movement, with a very soft piano, contrasted a tender, ethereal mood, yearning, with quivering, throbbing strings, and a forceful piano with turbulent strings. Valve on cello vibrated with ominous undertones. The movement ended with pizzicato on the violin.

The third, final movement was striking and scuttling. Selby on piano has a tumbling, undulating solo. Softer sections are interspersed with stormy ones, and there are flourishes and showy mini solos for all three of the trio leading to the vigorous ending.

Running time 97 minutes (approx.)
Selby and Friends Beethoven’s Ghost was filmed at City Recital Hall Sydney in June 2020

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