Beethoven

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Somm
WORKS: Piano Trios, Vol. 4: No. 1 in E flat, Op. 1; No. 7 in B flat, Op. 97 (Archduke); Allegretto in E flat
PERFORMER: Gould Piano Trio
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 0144

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This completes the Gould Trio’s four-volume survey of Beethoven’s piano trios with his first and last in the form. The transformation of expertly-crafted ebullience in Op. 1 into sublime grandeur and sophisticated wit in the Archduke, Op. 97 makes for a deeply satisfying programme. Sandwiched between is a charmingly formal Allegretto written in Beethoven’s last years in Bonn, which finds him constrained in 18th-century servant’s garb and powdered wig.

In the hands of the Gould Trio, even this is delightful: their playing throughout is supple, vivacious, alert to every nuance. The recording, made live in St George’s, Bristol, lends plenty of atmosphere and a generous resonance. This is not always helpful to the piano’s lower register, though Benjamin Frith produces a wonderful pearlescent quality higher up the instrument, at its best in his exquisitely provocative octave leaps that open Op. 1’s Presto and the intricate trilling sequences in the development of the Archduke’s Allegro moderato. Indeed, Frith throughout lends buoyancy, impetus and a tremendous sense of flow.

The trio judge the pace of each movement to perfection: both the Adagio (in Op. 1) and Andante (Op. 97) have a lyric warmth without descending into portentousness. While Op. 1 is one of the finest readings on disc, there are some slightly more rough-edged moments in the Archduke: Lucy Gould and Alice Neary lack the refined transparency of a partnership such as Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras (Harmonia Mundi). Of course, Beethoven relies on textural contrast, especially effective in the mysteriously veiled minor trio in the Op. 97 scherzo, and they capture a real sense of dissolution towards the end of the Andante. Only in the Finale did various articulations feel slightly too generalised for this whip smart comedy.

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Helen Wallace