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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in G major Op. 1 No. 2 (1794/95) [33:12]
Piano Trio after the Symphony in D major, Op. 36 (1804) [36:08]
Allegretto in E-flat major, Hess 48 (1790s) [3:14]
Van Baerle Trio
rec. 2017, MCO-1 Hilversum, The Netherlands
Reviewed in SACD stereo.
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72778 SACD [72:37]

Volume 1 of this Edition from the Van Baerle Trio was very much to my taste (review), and I was delighted to have Vol. 2 for review. Performance and recording are every bit up to the high standards already set, and the lively first movement of the Piano Trio in G major Op. 1 No. 2 sets the scene superbly. Relationships between this and the arrangement of the Second Symphony are pointed out in the booklet – both being not dissimilar in scale and proportions, and both opening with a slow introduction.

The Op. 1 No. 2 trio is quite light and approachable, but Beethovenian characteristics can be found all over the place. The unified nature of the Largo con espressione is a case in point, with the theme laid out by the piano and then explored extensively and with some modulations that would have had audiences wondering how on earth they would ever return to the tonic. The Van Baerle Trio plays the Scherzo with wit and good humour, not pushing the Allegro to any extremes, but with playing of this quality there’s no need for high drama. The Finale: Presto is virtuoso and swift in flight in this recording, Beethoven’s repeated notes adding a touch of tensile feverishness that is always held in control, but the sense of fun and inventive twists in the movement not being understated even in such a polished performance.

I pulled one comparison, that of the Xyrion Trio on the Naxos label (review) which has been a safe budget choice for many years. The recording here is good, though a little drier than the Hilversum studio used by the Van Baerle Trio. The Xyrion Trio players have a dramatic urgency which shortens the durations of their movements in comparison, but also removes a layer of depth from that slow second movement. They also don’t make quite as much of Beethoven’s surprises, such as that change of direction around 3:30 into the Finale which has a fine subtlety of touch in this newer recording. The Van Baerle Trio’s tempi strike a fine balance between expressive elegance and momentum, something which reminded me of the Borodin Trio’s recording for Chandos. Their Largo comes in at over 12 minutes compared to 9:44 here – a soulful view on this movement, but ultimately rather over-indulgent.

The Piano Trio after the Symphony in D major, Op. 36 is better known as Beethoven’s Second Symphony in its orchestral version. Chamber arrangements of orchestral works were common at this time, and the legitimacy of this work’s inclusion here is that it was the only such arrangement actually made by Beethoven himself, though it would seem that his student Ferdinand Ries did much of the donkey work. This score is tough to play well, and there are comparatively fewer recordings of it around. The Florestan Trio and Wanderer Trio for instance have complete sets (review) that don’t include the Op. 36 arrangement. Perhaps the most mainstream alternative for this work is Trio Élégiaque on the Brilliant Classics label. This is very good, but the closer recording of the Van Baerle players heightens the impact of Beethoven’s accents and dynamic extremes. Once again, they are prepared to let the music breathe just a little bit more, by no means slacking in tempo, but paying attention to the space between the notes as well as shaping phrases with greater consideration. Without forcing, they manage to create an orchestral impression – or at least some illusion that we’re not missing out so very much in not having the full orchestra, and as ever there are always things to be learned from hearing familiar music in an entirely different context.

The final Allegretto in E-flat major is perhaps one of Beethoven’s first works for piano trio, but it was only discovered in the mid-20th century amongst some early sketches. In his booklet note, Marten Noorduin appropriately sums it up as a “short but humorous conversation”, with the piano setting up a bouncy little rhythmic motief that the other instruments happily take on to an understated conclusion.

As often the case with Beethoven, there are too many alternatives for there to be an easy way to be definitive when it comes to collecting the piano trios. The Van Baerle Trio has been quite daring in dedicating a large portion of their second volume to the Second Symphony, but to my mind this bodes well for the later works. With excellent SACD sound and playing that is superbly musical and that can stand up to the microscopic scrutiny of the microphone placements, this in my opinion is very much a series to look out for.

Dominy Clements

 

 



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