ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven: Piano Trios Vol. 3
WORKS: Piano Trios Opp. 11, 38 & 121a
PERFORMER: Robert Plane (clarinet); Gould Piano Trio
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 0135
The two largest works here are not conventionally-scored piano trios, but have a clarinet in place of a violin. Beethoven made the somewhat utilitarian arrangement of his famous Septet as a gesture of gratitude to his doctor, who was an amateur violinist; but since much of the transcription retains the original clarinet part more or less intact, it makes sense to play it, as here, with the alternative scoring Beethoven sanctioned for that instrument. He even transferred the finale’s violin cadenza to the piano without changing a note of it. As for the Clarinet Trio, Op. 11, it’s a relatively lightweight piece, and Beethoven himself seems to have been dissatisfied with its concluding variations on an operatic hit of the day.
The Kakadu Variations Op. 121a, this time scored for normal piano trio, are also based on a popular tune. They form one of Beethoven’s comic masterpieces, and although he probably wrote the bulk of them during his early years, he revised them much later, adding a mock-tragic introduction rather like a slow motion version of the Archduke Trio’s beginning, as well as a substantial coda. That introduction could be even more sombre and expressive than the Gould Trio makes it, but the performances on this recording are all unfailingly musical and enjoyable, and it’s good to hear the finale of the Op. 11 Trio taken at a genuine Allegretto, as it lends the music a jauntiness that a quicker tempo, so often adopted by performers in this piece, can’t really capture.