Beethoven: Piano Trios Nos 1 & 2

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Analekta
WORKS: Piano Trio in D (Ghost), Op. 70, No. 1; in E flat, Op. 70, No. 2; in B flat, Op. 11
PERFORMER: Gryphon Trio
CATALOGUE NO: AN 2 9860

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These finely judged and warmly recorded performances gave me great deal of pleasure. I particularly liked the players’ leisurely tempos in the opening movement of the Trio Op. 70 No. 2, and the way they brought out the gruff humour of the concluding variations in Beethoven’s own adaptation of his Op. 11 Trio, originally scored for clarinet, cello and piano.

Perhaps the famous Largo from the Ghost Trio could have been a touch more mysterious. I often think of ETA Hoffmann’s description of playing the piece using soft pedals and the sustaining pedal, so that the piano produced ‘floating sounds that embraced the soul like shadowy dream figures, and enticed it into the magical sphere of strange presentiments’. It’s hard, though, to fault such a well-sustained account.

There are, however, genuine grounds for complaint in the third movement of the Trio Op. 70 No. 2, where the Gryphon Trio bypasses a wholesale repeat of the minuet-like main section and its trio, thereby curtailing Beethoven’s characteristic five-part form to three parts, and considerably lessening the effectiveness of the coda which refers back nostalgically to the trio. 

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Perhaps the cut was made in order to accommodate the Op. 11 Trio on an already well-filled CD. If so, it’s a poor excuse: the movement in question is not long, and it’s among the most beautiful Beethoven ever wrote. With that caveat, the CD is strongly recommended. Misha Donat