Beethoven: Piano Trio in G, Op. 1/2; Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1/3

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Piano Trio in G, Op. 1/2; Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1/3
PERFORMER: Vienna Piano Trio
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5661
With its slow introduction foreshadowing the theme of the following Allegro, its radiant slow movement in the distant key of E major and its witty, almost tongue-in-cheek finale, the G major middle work is the most Haydnesque of Beethoven’s three Op. 1 Trios. Its turbulent successor, on the other hand, is his first piece in his own characteristically dramatic key of C minor. It was Beethoven’s pupil and early biographer Ferdinand Ries who claimed that Haydn had advised Beethoven not to publish the C minor Trio, because the Viennese public wasn’t ready for it. There may be a grain of truth in Ries’s story (though the chronology of events, with Haydn having been in London at the time the Trio was composed and published, makes it rather suspect), and certainly it isn’t hard to imagine the effect this defiantly unconventional piece, with its striking juxtapositions of pianissimo and fortissimo and its startling composed ‘fade-out’ at the end, must have had on its early audiences.

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The Vienna Piano Trio makes the most of the C minor Trio’s drama, with the music’s air of restlessness and its stark dynamic contrasts very well conveyed. Only the trio of the minuet is rather bland and under-characterised, but for the rest these are fine performances, and very well recorded. However, for generally more engrossing music-making, and for an account of the wonderful Largo of Op. 1/2 that really plumbs the music’s depths, the 1970 recording by Barenboim, Zukerman and Du Pré is still the one to go for. Misha Donat