COMPOSERS: Beethoven.Hummel
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven.Hummel
WORKS: Piano Trios: No. 3 in C minor; No. 5 in D (Ghost). Piano Trio No. 4 in G
PERFORMER: Daniel Sepec (violin), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Andreas Staier (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMC 901955
When the early 19th-century writer ETA Hoffmann played the famous slow movement of Beethoven’s Ghost Trio, Op. 70 No. 1, on a piano made by the Viennese firm of Streicher, it produced ‘floating sounds that embraced the soul like shadowy dream figures, and enticed it into the magical sphere of strange presentiments’. The slightly later instrument Andreas Staier uses (copied from another Viennese maker, Conrad Graf) may not have the same variety of soft pedal effects that Hoffmann had at his disposal, but it’s possible in any case to feel that Staier doesn’t fully capture the spectral atmosphere of the music’s mysterious ‘flickering’ figuration. But for the rest, these are really impressive and vibrant accounts that bring out all the abrupt contrasts that so shocked the works’ first audiences (in the case of the early C minor Trio, Op. 1 No. 3, famously including Haydn). A felicitous touch in the C minor work is Staier’s treatment of the octaves glissando in the minuet’s trio, which he plays delicately the first time, but in a forceful fortissimo– probably what Beethoven had in mind all along – on the repeat. If you prefer these pieces on period instruments, you’re unlikely to find them better done, though for a more traditional approach the Kalichsein/Laredo/Robinson Trio (on Arabesque) offers a fine alternative. Beside Beethoven, Hummel’s G major Trio is small beer, though its scherzo-like finale, incorporating a contrapuntal phrase blatantly lifted from Mozart’s great String Quartet K387 is fun, and Staier wittily invokes the piano’s built-in percussion effect for the concluding chords.