WORKS: Piano Trios (complete)
PERFORMER: Trio Fontenay
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-73281-2 DDD
The Archduke and Ghost Trios are deservedly among the most famous works in the repertoire. Less familiar are the Kakadu Variations, one of Beethoven’s comic masterpieces. Little is known about its origins, but it seems likely that the imposing tragic introduction which leads with such devastating wit into the cheeky variation theme itself was grafted on at a much later stage. Needless to say, the introduction must be taken seriously if the joke is to make its full effect; and it must be said that the Trio Fontenay’s rather impatient performance largely fails the test. The Solomon Trio are preferable here, but they offer a rather unexceptional – and poorly recorded – version of the Archduke.
The generally disappointing level of the Trio Fontenay’s cycle is due in no small measure to the unimaginative playing of their pianist. His plodding left-hand chords at the start of the Ghost Trio’s mysterious slow movement are extraordinarily unatmospheric; and the Archduke’s finale is hampered by a similarly heavy-handed approach. By dint of some hair-raisingly fast tempi in the three Op. 1 trios, together with the omission of a good few desirable repeats, the cycle has been accommodated on three discs rather than the usual four; but this is not in other respects a bargain. Misha Donat