It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to assemble a better group of musicians to perform Beethoven's Triple Concerto and Choral Fantasy
. Daniel Barenboim has been so busy conducting the world's top orchestras and opera companies that there is a danger of forgetting what an excellent pianist he is. He conducts both of these works from the keyboard, as Beethoven would have expected, engaging in chamber music-like dialogue in the concerto and creating a sense of impromptu in the Fantasy
's long piano solo, which Beethoven wrote for himself and partly improvised at the first performance. Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma are sensitive, alert, and technically superb partners.
The music is not Beethoven's most familiar, but it is absolutely charming. The concerto is appealing in its melodic material and the intricate interactions among the soloists and orchestra. The Choral Fantasy features a long piano solo that Beethoven wrote for himself, plus a choral melody that sounds like a preliminary sketch for the last movement of his Ninth Symphony. Both works pose unusual balance challenges, to which Barenboim and the recording engineers rise impressively. --Joe McLellan