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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Trio in E flat major Op.3 (before 1794) [39:23]
Serenade in D major Op.8 (1796-97) [29:46]
String Trio in G major Op.9 no.1 (1797-98) [27:02]
String Trio in D major Op.9 no.2 (1797-98) [22:59]
String Trio in C minor Op.9 no.3 (1797-98) [23:53]
Serenade in D major for flute, violin and viola, Op. 25 (1800-01) [24:02 + 22:38]
Michel Debost (flute), Jean-Pierre Rampal (flute), Le Trio à Cordes Français
rec. 1963/1970, Paris
DOREMI DHR-8106-08 [3 CDs: 190:04]

Doremi already has a large roster of artist and ensemble-led reissues in its catalogue and this is the second release devoted to Le Trio à Cordes Français, with its three outstanding musicians, namely violinist Gérard Jarry, violist Serge Collot and cellist Michel Tournus. The first volume in this series was devoted to Mozart (review) where I have given some brief historical background to the group. It’s already clear that this is to be a composer-based series, given that this second multi-disc edition is devoted to the music of Beethoven. It would be interesting to know if Doremi is going to excavate the Haydn Flute Divertimenti with Rampal and the Stamitz wind chamber works, which might make a good release.

In the meantime, here are the Beethoven string trios, the Serenade Op. 8 and two different versions of the Serenade in D major for flute and trio to keep one happy. So far as I’m aware the last time they were available on CD was in the gargantuan 50-CD EMI ‘The Collector’s Edition’ (3877392) – with the single exception of the c.1963 recording made by Rampal, which is not included there. The one made seven years later with Michel Debost, made at the same time as the remainder of the works in this box, is the selected item.

These are elegant, refined performances as were the Mozart readings. Jarry was a natural soloist but a subtle one not given to outsize gestures and he ensures that there is no undue spotlighting on his violinistic prowess. Balances are natural and Tournus’ cello is not relegated in the perspective. If one compares their readings of the Op.9 set, they’re not as arresting, soloistic or operatically conceived as had been the case in the set made by the Pougnet-Riddle-Pini trio (review), but their mono recordings date from the early 1950s and are somewhat nasal tonally. You can find them on Forgotten Records. The French ensemble is elegant, bright toned, structurally convincing, crisp and not trenchant, rhythmically alert and vibrantly musical. Its warm expressivity is never indulged in slow movements – sample Op.9 No.3 as evidence – and elsewhere there’s plenty of characterisation. Try the drolly voiced second movement of Op.3. There’s a blip, presumably an LP edit, just before the end of the Scherzo of Op.9 No.3.

The pizzicati of the Menuetto of the Op.3 trio are finely balanced, Jarry’s cantabile phrasing being eloquent and adroitly vibrated. The Adagio is the expressive heart of this trio and it’s spun with purity and control, and the second Menuetto, meanwhile, is crisply accented. The French players take more incisive tempi for the Op.8 Serenade than the English trio though Pini is wittier than Tournus in the Allegretto alla Polacca; in fact, the earlier team is arguably the more richly characterised. Both versions of the Serenade for flute are excellent. Rampal is the more famous player but Debost played with the trio more often and is fully at home in the milieu. I think the string trio phrases just a touch more poetically for Debost in the Allegro opening though there’s very little in it.

As before, Doremi continues to disappoint with its documentation. Nowhere will you find out details of the LPs from which these transfers derive. They appeared variously on Decca and Discophile Français, with the Opp. 3 and 9 appearing in a Musidisc LP box. The Debost recording was released on EMI.

Jonathan Woolf

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