Beethoven: Piano Trios, Op. 1/1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Piano Trios, Op. 1/1 & 2
PERFORMER: Trio Parnassus
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 303 1051-2
The 24-year-old Beethoven was determined to create a stir in the musical world with his first published opus. And with their weighty symphonic structures and their urgency of musical dialectic, the three Op. 1 Trios were a headlong challenge to the traditional notion of the piano trio as a relaxed, small-scale genre. Each of the works is in four movements rather than the customary three or two; and if the cello still frequently doubles the keyboard bass, it has its moments of glory such as Haydn never and Mozart only rarely allowed in their piano trios.

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On this new disc the Parnassus Trio brings to these smilingly subversive works plenty of Beethovenian sinew and drive, with bold contrasts of dynamics (a crucial feature of these trios) and properly sharp, stinging sforzando accents. Both slow movements – the rather Mozartian Adagio cantabile in No. 1, and the luxuriant Largo con espressione, in a remote E major, of No. 2 (in G) – are naturally shaped at flowing, unsentimental tempi. On the downside, the quicksilverAllegro assai scherzo of No. 1 sounds a shade cautious; and in the finale of the same trio the nimble pianist Chia Chou misses a trick by failing to vary the phrasing and timing of his teasing octave leaps. Despite an over-resonant recording, balance between keyboard and strings is well managed, with a strongly etched cello line.

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By comparison with the best rival versions – among them Barenboim, Zukerman and Du Pré (EMI), the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips) and, my own favourite, the eager, youthful-sounding Vienna Piano Trio (Nimbus) – the Parnassus lacks the last degree of fantasy and, in the slow movements, expressive subtlety. But no one who wants this pair of trios on a single disc is likely to feel short-changed by these vital, polished performances. Richard Wigmore