Piano Concerto No. 5, The Emperor
Concerto for Piano Trio, Triple

Elizabeth Sombart Piano
Duncan Riddell Violin
Richard Harwood Cello
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pierre Valet Conductor

Signum Classics SIGCD637
Full Price

The Review

This completes Elizabeth Sombart’s three disc cycle of the Beethoven piano concertos recorded in the superb acoustic of London’s Cadogan Hall, which allows the balance between the piano and orchestra to remain natural. It also emphasises that, despite the grandiosity of the Emperor, the orchestra is large chamber rather than heavy-weight symphonic size, giving an intimacy that Vallet exploits well.

Sombart’s performance is sensitive and respectful, if neither the most virtuosic nor revelatory on record. It is hard to stand out with this concerto, given the hundreds of versions available from the last seventy years, but Sombart is still distinguished. She thinks carefully about her rubato, never resorts to force for its own sake and, in Vallet, has a conductor with whom she has worked for many years. He integrates the performance with attentive skill and some of the orchestral entries are delicious. Together they weight the phrases so that they demand attention, they don’t allow familiarity to let the listener off the hook, although the Adagio is just a little too deliberate for me.

The RPO is on fine form, as is its long-time leader, Duncan Riddell, in the Triple Concerto. Of all Beethoven’s concertos this is the least valued these days, perhaps because the slow movement is almost perfunctory, compared to the long first. Perhaps also because no one soloist is the star. Yet in writing a concerto for piano trio and orchestra, he was breathing new life into the baroque tradition of the multi instrument concerto while moving it firmly into the romantic era. It is good humoured but not slight. Ridell, Richard Harwood and Sombart catch this effectively. It is as if we have a proper chamber trio discussing thematic material among themselves then seeing what the orchestra has to say about it. Too often this concerto is treated by celebrity soloists as an afterthought. Here it is given the serious treatment it deserves. I suspect I shall return to this disc more for this than for the more imposing Emperor.