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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, op. 1/3 (1795) [29:07]
Piano Trio No. 7 in E flat major “Archduke”, op. 97 (1811) [38:54]
Trio con Brio Copenhagen
rec. 2019, DR Koncerthuset, Studio 2, Copenhagen

This is the third volume in the Danish-based Trio con Brio Copenhagen’s survey of Beethoven’s piano trios. I haven’t heard the first two, and they haven’t been reviewed on this site. I’m pleased to correct this shortfall, both for myself and for our readers. Of course, anyone with an interest in the piano trio repertoire, or indeed Beethoven, will have these works in their collection already – the Archduke is the most recorded of his works in this genre – and will almost certainly have their favourite go-to versions. That being so, new releases have a tough row to hoe to make any sort of impact.

As a group, Beethoven’s trios are among his most consistently sunny creations. That’s not to say that they lack drama, but there is little of the fist shaking of the Fifth Symphony or the extreme range of emotions in the late quartets and sonatas. My favourite versions - the Florestan Trio (Hyperion) and TrioVanBeethoven (Gramola) – are contrasting in their approaches: the former precise and glittering, the latter more genial and relaxed.

From the opening bars of the C minor trio, it was very apparent that Trio con Brio Copenhagen were of the latter school of thought. So if you want your Beethoven to be energetic and/or forceful, then you can stop reading now as this release isn’t for you. I used the adjectives “smiling”, “playful” and “relaxed” in one of my TrioVanBeethoven reviews. The last certainly applies here, though I feel that Trio con Brio Copenhagen are a little more serious, though never straitlaced. Like TrioVanBeethoven, they have achieved the difficult goal of broad tempos without becoming static. There is a lightness of touch that is very pleasurable. Try the pizzicato episode about eight minutes into the first movement of the Archduke, or anywhere in the Scherzo for a sense of how beautifully balanced these performances are.

Perhaps the best adjective to describe the sound is “rounded”. That’s not to say that it lacks definition, but it doesn’t slap you in the face with analytical clarity. Given the broad tempos, this is probably quite appropriate. Each instrument is well defined and one doesn’t dominate the others. Readers of my reviews will know how much I dislike a hard-edged or wiry violin tone; I’m pleased to report none of that here. The booklet notes provide good historical context for the works, and also a musical analysis which is comprehensible to an interested layperson.

I have very much enjoyed spending time with these performances, listening to them more often than was necessary for the purposes of this review. They won’t replace my favourites, but I shall be seeking out their previous volume which contains my favourite Beethoven trio, No. 2.

David Barker

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