For some reason Beethoven’s Triple Concerto — for violin, cello, and piano — has never found the love routinely shown his other six concertos. Sure, earlier generations of commentators tended to dismiss it as second-rate Beethoven and old opinions die hard. There’s also the expense of engaging three soloists, which no doubt helps account for the infrequency of live performances. But many string players in particular will leap to defend this piece’s charms, its chamber music delicacies played out within a heroic cast, and indeed it’s hard not to be swept into a good performance, especially when the solo playing has some sinew and bite and the three soloists a natural feel for the bracing vigor and exuberant lyricism this music demands.
On Saturday night at Emmanuel Church, the work was the anchor and highpoint of a program designed to spotlight what Emmanuel artistic director Ryan Turner referred to as Beethoven’s hidden gems. For the occasion, Emmanuel recruited pianist Robert Levin and tapped two string players from its own orchestra — violinist Heather Braun and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer.
It was a performance with buoyancy, freshness, and a conversational charm. Braun showed an intuitive sense for the curvature and weighting of Beethoven’s long-breathing lines, Popper-Keizer displayed his customary sweetness of tone, and Levin shaped Beethoven’s relatively straightforward piano writing with eloquence and irrepressible energy. Acoustically speaking, Emmanuel Church is not the easiest space to hear a performance of a work at this scale, and from my seat at least, a few passages were murky and passing orchestral balances seemed somewhat misjudged. Listening from another spot in this church, however, it may have sounded completely differently.
The first half of the program featured vocal selections heard far less frequently than the Triple Concerto, including “Mit Mädeln sich vertragen,” “Ne’ giorni tuoi felici,” and “Tremate, empi, tremate” (Op. 116). Charles Blandy, Paul Max Tipton, and Susan Consoli were the fine vocal soloists. Consoli also delivered a deeply felt account of the concert aria “Ah! Perfido . . . Per pieta,” and Turner opened the night with Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture in a performance that made up in vigor for whatever it occasionally lacked in crystalline detail.