Beethoven: Piano Trio in E flat, Op. 1/1; Piano Trio in D, Op. 70/1 (Ghost)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Trio in E flat, Op. 1/1; Piano Trio in D, Op. 70/1 (Ghost)
A family affair – and an unusually fruitful one. In these two piano trios by Beethoven, it is the pianist, Myung-Whun Chung (currently music director of the Bastille Opera) who, not surprisingly, claims the greatest share of the action. The cellist, Myung-Wha Chung, might not have quitethe international prominence of her violinist sister Kyung-Wha,but she, too, is especially good, particularly in the more emancipated role accorded to her instrument in the so-called Ghost Trio, Op. 70/1. The Chungs have the right, neatly focused classical acuity needed to raise the early E flat Trio, Op.1/1, to its proper level; this was, after all, the work with which Beethoven stunned an enlightened Viennese public in 1795. It is worth remembering that the first of Beethoven’s true scherzi is found in this revolutionary four-movement work, where the form is elevated far above the relaxed domesticity of its Haydnesque forbears. Erudite, poised and exacting playing here with the pianist very much in control, one suspects, of the major decisions.


Beethoven revisited the medium at the conclusion of one of the most decisive periods in musical history, initiated in 1803 with the Eroica Symphony. The Op. 70 trios give equal status to each instrument, with the middle register of the cello richly exploited. The first work of the set owes its title, the Ghost, to its remarkable slow movement, derived from material intended for a projected opera, Macbeth. The performance here is painstakingly detailed; there’s real flair and brilliance in the outer movements, the final Presto proving a rare tour de force. It never quite matches the Beaux Arts Trio, perhaps, for sheer insight, but the Chungs will soon have you on the edge of your seat – and keep you there! Michael Jameson