WORKS: Piano Trio in D, Op. 70/1 (Ghost); Piano Trio in E flat, Op. 70/2; Allegretto in B flat, WoO 39
PERFORMER: Florestan Trio
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67327
No piano trio today conveys such a feeling of spontaneous, excited discovery as the Florestan. And in both the contrasted Op. 70 Trios, the ensemble responds eagerly to the energy and unpredictability of Beethoven’s thought, marrying hypersensitivity to detail with a clear long-range vision. In the brooding Gothic Largo of the Ghost, the Florestan’s tempo is less portentously slow than usual; but the players justify it with their marvellous sense of colour and atmosphere, culminating in the hollow, dessicated string tremolos of the coda. The Ghost’s opening movement is properly explosive and truculent; yet here, as elsewhere, the Florestan makes you aware of how much of the score is marked dolce and/or pianissimo. And in the finale, taken at a true presto, the players relish Beethoven’s quickfire repartee and lightning mood shifts, with pianist Susan Tomes conjuring miracles of colouristic delicacy at speed.
The glorious E flat Trio – still the best-kept secret among Beethoven’s ‘middle-period’ masterpieces – is done with a mingled grace, wit and brio that surpasses all other recordings I’ve ever heard. The Schubertian intermezzo ideally balances urgency and lyrical tenderness, while the Allegretto second movement, often done too slowly, here has a jaunty spring in its step, with the players tearing gleefully into the flamboyant ‘Hungarian’ episodes.
Other memorable versions of these trios include the two recordings from the Beaux Arts (both currently unavailable) and the rather more assertive readings from Ashkenazy, Perlman and Harrell (EMI). But for a sense of live music-making, of players delightedly bouncing ideas off one another and challenging and coaxing each other to new insights, the Florestan – beautifully recorded – would now be my first choice.