Beethoven: Piano Trios

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven: Piano Trios
WORKS: Piano Trios No. 6 in E flat, Op. 70/2; No.7 in B flat, Op. 97 (Archduke)
PERFORMER: Isabelle Faust (violin); Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello); Alexander Melnikov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902125

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You know a performance is working well when you greet each long repeat with an inward sigh of pleasure. I have to say this was particularly the case with the Piano Trio No. 6 in E flat, Op. 70 No. 2. Is the sole reason this wonderful work is neglected simply that it hasn’t got a nickname? Perhaps the slightly formal opening dissuades some listeners, or perhaps it’s the fact that it hasn’t got a soulful slow movement. But Beethoven follows the darkly capricious Allegretto with one of his most melodious scherzos, and that kind of inspired role-reversal is typical.

Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov approach Op. 70 No. 2 as though they felt that its neglect in favour of the famous Ghost Trio (Op. 70 No. 1) was a monstrous injustice. In the Ghost, the superb slow movement does tend to eclipse the other two – or at least the finale; Op. 70 No. 2 however emerges here as more consistently vital and imaginative. In fact Faust, Queyras and Melnikov are so convincing that it slightly – and unexpectedly – overshadows the Archduke Trio, Op. 97. This is a good performance, but it is in the Scherzo and finale that this team sound completely on top of the music. The slow movement is far from dull, but it’s a few degrees short of transcendent. Is this a case of Beethoven’s imagination outstretching the capabilities of the instruments of his time? Elsewhere Melnikov works wonders with his 1828 Graff piano, managing to make it less clattery and more piano-like than in most other fortepiano recordings. The recorded soundis fresh and clear, with the ensemble finely balanced.

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Stephen Johnson