Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 & Mass in C Major

San Francisco Symphony - Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 - Cover Image

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Michael Tilson Thomas, music director and conductor
Emanuel Ax, piano

Joélle Harvey, soprano
Shenyang, bass-baritone
Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano
San Francisco Symphony Chorus
William Burden, tenor
Ragnar Bohlin, chorus director

Listeners of Beethoven’s C minor Piano Concerto may entertain recollections of an earlier C minor Piano Concerto, the brooding, even despairing one that Mozart composed in 1786. Beethoven was an admirer of the Mozart work, and his own C minor Piano Concerto, which was not completed until 1803, displays a strikingly unified vocabulary and taut structure.

The opening movement has an aggressive cast. The main theme of the concerto’s first movement is terse, blunt, to-the-point. What the strings play is answered by a mirroring woodwind phrase, proceeding into a passionate continuation for the whole orchestra in a sinking scale pattern. A second principal theme appears several pages into the piece, a gracious melody introduced by violins with the added intensity of gentle clarinets. The orchestra’s exposition goes on at ample length and with considerable force. The piano makes its entrance with an ornamental, three-measure lead-in of scales (played in octaves) before articulating the stark main theme on its own.

—James M. Keller, excerpt from liner notes