Beethoven: Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1/3; Piano Trio in B flat, Op. 97 (Archduke)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1/3; Piano Trio in B flat, Op. 97 (Archduke)
PERFORMER: Kempf Trio
CATALOGUE NO: SACD-1172
This beautifully recorded disc has much to offer, with the players responding particularly well to the turbulence of Beethoven’s C minor Trio. Perhaps their tempo for the second movement is on the slow side for an Andante, but the playing is so warm and full of detailed insights – the way Freddy Kempf stresses the upper line of the left-hand part in the repeat of the first variation, for instance, bringing out a hidden relationship to the theme itself – that it’s churlish to complain. There’s another nice touch in the trio of the minuet, where, in the absence of any dynamic marking in Beethoven’s score, Kempf plays the final C major descending scale in octaves quietly the first time, but in an effective fortissimo on the repeat. The performance of the Archduke, Op. 97, is also in the main deeply satisfying, though the slow movement – one of Beethoven’s most profound variation-sets – seems to me miscalculated. The serene, chorale-like theme is followed by a series of variations that offer a progressive increase in motion, from quaver triplets, to semiquavers, to semiquaver triplets. However, the Kempf Trio plays the first variation so much slower than those that follow that the whole edifice threatens to crumble. For a more convincing overall view of this wonderful work, no less affectionately played, my choice among recent recordings would be the Kalichstein/Laredo/Robinson Trio, which also offers a fine account of the C minor Trio. But I look forward to more Beethoven from Kempf and his colleagues. Misha Donat

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