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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1828)
Piano Trios

Piano Trio No. 1 in E flat Major, op. 1 no. 1 [25.89]
Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3 [23.95]
Piano Trio No. 4 in B flat major, op. 11 "Gassenhauertrio" [20.24]
Haydn-Trio, Wien: Heinz Medjimorec (piano), Michael Schnitzler (violin), Walter Shulz (cello)
rec. 1985, 1986 Teldec Classics, International GmbH DDD
WARNER CLASSICS APEX 2564 61366-2 [72’12"]

These recordings from the Warner Classics Apex label were previously issued in a different compilation on the Teldec label in 1986. In this collection we have two of the three early Piano Trios - Opus 1, no. 1 in E flat Major and Opus 1, no. 3 in C minor. This is then followed by the Piano Trio No. 4 in B flat major, Opus 11. As Raymond McGill tells us in his excellent and informative sleeve notes, Beethoven's three early piano trios were published as his Opus number one and appeared in 1795 when the composer was only 25 years old. The Piano Trio no. 4, Opus 11, was composed a few years later in 1798. The Opus 1 trios – and in particular Opus 1. No. 3 - represent an advance over Beethoven's seniors such as Haydn and Mozart, although Beethoven had in fact been a pupil of Haydn during the time of composition! In these early trios we witness an advance in the role of the ’cello, which until this time had mainly been used as a continuo rather than as a solo instrument in its own right.

The Haydn Trio of Vienna was founded in 1965 and has played together in well over a thousand concerts, so it is not surprising that the playing and ensemble is of the highest standard. They clearly know these works inside out and are able to bring a degree of intensity and understanding which does not come across so well in some of the other recordings. I was particularly impressed by the beautiful Adagio in the Opus 11, a trio which was originally written for clarinet rather than the violin. It is also good to hear the finale marked "prestissimo" in Piano Trio No. 3 taken here at exactly the right speed, as some other recordings take this movement at a more leisurely pace, thus losing the impact of the sudden change in tempo. In fact, all the movements have a sense of being taken at a perfectly correct pace, with neither the fast movements being rushed, nor any unnecessary dawdling or lingering in the slow movements. The playing is dapper, spick and span, accomplished and masterful, and the works are imbued with a sense of air and lightness. The tuning and intonation is excellent, and the sound good. The Haydn Trio also bring out the contrasts in the pieces most effectively, playing off the staccato against the legato in the different instruments admirably.

What is the competition? There is an proficient new recording by the Gryphon Trio of Canada on Analekta. They only include Piano Trios opus 1, Nos. 1 and 3, but they observe all the repeats, unlike here with the Haydn Trio and some other recordings of these works. The Grieg Trio on a new CD from Simax play the Opus 1, No. 3 trio and this has received excellent reviews elsewhere. The recent issue of volume 3 of the Florestan trio’s commendable series of complete recordings of the Piano Trios includes Opus 1 Nos. 1 and 2. For the more adventurous (and wealthy!) these trios are also available as part of larger compilations including major international soloists. Pinchas Zukerman (violin), Jacqueline Du Pré (cello) and Daniel Barenboim (piano) recorded all three Opus 1 Trios in January 1970 at Abbey Road Studios, London. At less than £30 for 9 CDs, this is a real bargain, and contains Beethoven's duos as well as the piano trios, along with a superlative performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio. A later disc with the same performers, issued in 1989, comprises the complete Beethoven piano trios, as well as Ten Variations On Mueller's Song 'Ich bin der Scneider Kakadu' and the Fourteen Variations in E flat. Szeryng, Fournier and Kempff also perform the trios as part of the Complete Beethoven Edition on DG, a 5-disc set for £38.99. Interestingly, Warner Classics Apex include another reissue CD in their series which also has the Piano Trio No. 4, this time partnered with the Piano Trio opus 1, no. 2.

With so many outstanding recordings to choose from, one really is spoilt for choice. However, at bargain price, the version by the Haydn-trio, Wien will certainly not disappoint and is an excellent all-round recording, so comes highly recommended!

Em Marshall


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