Beethoven: Piano Trio in G, Op. 1 No. 2; Piano Trio in B flat, Op. 97 (Archduke)
The Gryphon Trio of Canada has recorded an eclectic range of music stretching from Mozart to the tangos of Astor Piazzolla. Reviewing their Mozart double album back in 2006, I found it highly accomplished, but a little lacking in elegance and spontaneity. I’m glad to say that isn’t the case with their new Beethoven disc: this is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable accounts of the Archduke Trio I’ve heard in a long while.
The Gryphon players are warm, spacious and lyrical in the opening movement, while the slow movement – one of Beethoven’s most profound sets of variations – is serene and deeply-felt without ever dragging, and the helter-skelter coda of the finale taken at a genuine presto that nevertheless leaves room for the required further acceleration in the closing moments.
One day I hope to hear the Scherzo in the expanded form that Beethoven intended, with two full appearances of the mysteriously chromatic quasi-trio sandwiched between a threefold statement of the scherzo section itself; but since virtually no one does the piece that way, one can hardly complain.
The middle work of the Op. 1 triptych receives a fine performance, too, with an affecting account of the radiant slow movement – the expressive highpoint of the series as a whole. In the Scherzo I missed the off-beat accents that give the horn-calls at the end of each half of the piece their piquancy; and it’s a pity the pianist couldn’t resist the temptation to add a couple of jokes of his own in the finale. His additions are discreet, but they are not necessarily in the best of taste, and Beethoven’s piece is in any case witty enough as it stands. However, this is a minor blip in what is a beautifully recorded and strongly recommended disc. Not to be missed! Misha Donat