Beethoven: String Trios Opp. 3, 8 & 9

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: String Trios Opp. 3, 8 & 9
PERFORMER: Itzhak Perlman (violin), Pinchas Zukerman (viola), Lynn Harrell (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 7 54198-2 DDD
Before settling down to the serious business of becoming a string quartet composer, Beethoven completed no fewer than five works for the more exacting medium of the string trio. Their only great predecessor was Mozart’s Divertimento K563, and he duly took it as his model for his first trio, Op. 3 – possibly his earliest masterpiece altogether. But these are in no sense merely apprentice works: the curiously retrogressive Serenade Op. 8 aside, they can fully stand comparison with Beethoven’s first string quartets, Op. 18 – indeed, the C minor Trio Op. 9/3 is demonstrably superior to its counterpart among the quartets.

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It is good to have a new recording of this neglected music, particularly when played with such virtuosity. These are public performances which include some audience participation (there is even – appropriately enough – laughter at the pizzicato fade-out of the Op. 8 Serenade’s Minuet); but the microphones have, alas, been placed so close to the players as to rob the sound of any concert hall atmosphere. The Op. 9 Trios, in particular, are uncomfortably dry. For all the occasional portentousness of their approach, the DG recording by Anne-Sophie Mutter, Bruno Giuranna and Rostropovich imparts greater warmth to the music. Misha Donat