Beethoven: Piano Trios; Kakadu Variations, Op. 121a; Variations, Op. 44

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Phoenix
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Trios; Kakadu Variations, Op. 121a; Variations, Op. 44
PERFORMER: Haydn Trio Eisenstadt


The Haydn Trio Eisenstadt’s survey of Beethoven piano trios is nothing if not complete: not only do we get the accepted canon of trios, but also a clutch of much less familiar works, all of them in E flat major, and most going back to Beethoven’s early years in Bonn. An isolated Allegretto movement, first published as late as the 1950s, isn’t of any great interest; but there’s also a three-movement trio that contains attractive ideas, with the opening bars of its finale even offering a distant foretaste of the main Allegro theme from the E flat Trio, Op. 70 No. 2. Also relatively unfamiliar are the Variations Op. 44 – a curiously fascinating piece, based on what sounds like an accompaniment to a theme that never quite materialises – which may represent Beethoven’s first attempt at a finale for the Trio Op. 1 No. 1. As for Beethoven’s utilitarian trio arrangement of his popular Septet Op. 20, it was made for his physician, who was an amateur violinist. Since all the awkward violin writing of the original version (including the finale’s cadenza) is transferred wholesale to the keyboard, he must have been a player of limited technical ability. The performances here are variable in quality. Best of all, perhaps, is the famous Ghost Trio, Op. 70 No. 1, where the players capture the music’s mood and atmosphere very well. There’s a good deal to enjoy, too, in the dramatic C minor Trio, Op. 1 No. 3, and in the slow movement of the Archduke – one of the most beautiful of all Beethoven’s sets of variations. But all too often elsewhere the playing lacks both character and elegance. The charming homage to Haydn that forms the second movement of the companion-work to the Ghost, for instance, is ponderous in the extreme, and the Archduke’s finale also plods. The mock-tragedy of the slow introduction to the witty Kakadu Variations is inadequately conveyed, too, and the ‘presto’ coda is scarcely more than a jog-trot. This new set is finely recorded, but for a more consistently satisfying version of these great works the Florestan Trio remains a firm recommendation. Misha Donat