Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Piano Trios – Volume 1
Trio in E flat major, op. 1/1 (1793) [29:19]
Trio in C minor, op. 1/3 (1793) [30:10]
Trio in B flat major, op. 11 (1798) [20:19]
Van Baerle Trio
rec. 2017, MCO-1 Hilversum, The Netherlands. DSD
Hybrid multichannel SACD/CD reviewed in stereo
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72765 SACD [79:50]
The Van Baerle Trio are a Dutch ensemble, founded in 2004, and named after the Amsterdam street in which the three performers met, that being where the Amsterdam Conservatorium is located. With this first volume, they enter a field already well populated with recordings of these works, which always begs the question: who will buy this? Certainly, Beethoven trio aficionados, of which I am a paid-up member, will want to hear these performances. What about those who are content with whichever of the great recordings out there that they own already? Will they be drawn to this new release from a trio whose presence outside their home country, I suspect, is fairly limited?
These are, of course, early works, and owe much to the Haydn model, so we shouldn’t expect the intense drama and passion of middle and late Beethoven. That said, I was expecting more expression and variety than the Van Baerles provide. I found little evidence of shaping the phrases to create an individual view of these works, though some might say that they are simply playing what Beethoven wrote. If that were all that was required, we would have stopped needing new recordings a long while ago. Tempos (and timings) are invariably slower than my reference recordings (Florestan, Wanderer, TrioVanBeethoven) and this too saps vitality. I’m afraid that there is nothing in this recording that makes me think anything new about these works.
The booklet notes provide good historical background to the three works, but do not attempt to analyse the music itself. Special mention is made of the piano used in the recording. Built in 2017 by Chris Maene, it differs from standard concert grands in that all strings run parallel to one another, which is apparently how early pianofortes were built. I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of the piano sounding any different to normal. The sound quality – I could only listen through two speakers – is what one would expect for a modern recording, but not exceptional. The three performers play their instruments perfectly well, but in repertoire such as this, more is expected.
In the opening paragraph, I pondered the question of who would buy this. Perhaps the more pertinent one is “who is going to buy Volume 2?” and based on these overly safe, somewhat characterless performances, I’m not sure who that is going to be.