WORKS: Piano Trio in B flat, Op. 97 (Archduke); Allegretto in E flat; Variations on ‘Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu’
PERFORMER: Florestan Trio
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67369
If I call the Florestan’s an essentially Classical performance of the Archduke, that is not to imply any expressive coolness. Susan Tomes’s gently eloquent presentation of the opening theme sets the tone: an easy, flowing tempo, the merest hint of rubato and a truly dolce keyboard sonority. And the continuation, in a full trio texture, quickly reveals the natural, selfless give-and-take between the instruments that is one of the hallmarks of the Florestan. Other performers – including Ashkenazy, Perlman and Harrell (EMI) and the Beaux Arts, in their two famous accounts on Philips – may give grander, more Romantically subjective readings of this movement. But the Florestan is no less memorable for its lyrical tenderness, its luminous sonorities (even in this most massively scored of Beethoven’s trios) and the rhythmic buoyancy with which the players animate the music’s glorious tranquil breadth.
The scherzo is delightfully relaxed and nonchalant (though I missed a touch of swagger in the trio’s splashy waltz tune), while the finale has an elegant strut to its rhythms and a characteristic feeling for those sudden moments of mystery. It is typical, too, that the Florestan should gently underline the dance associations of the Andante with no sacrifice of sublimity: Susan Tomes’s presentation of the theme, truly semplice, as Beethoven asks, suggests the music’s sarabande background more palpably than any other performance I know; and the second and third variations here frolic and caper with transcendent levity.
As bonuses, the Florestan offers an early Allegretto – Beethoven at his most jejune – and the comically inventive ‘Kakadu’ Variations, zestfully characterised. Ridiculous, of course, to speak of an out-and-out ‘best buy’ for the Archduke. But for its intimacy, lyricism and balance of felicitous detail with long-range vision, the Florestan’s glowingly recorded performance should be on anyone’s shortlist.