These reissues from around 30 years ago clearly represent
a major set containing performances by major artists. At less than £30
for 9 CDs, this is also a real bargain, containing Beethoven's duos
and his piano trios, along with a superlative performance of the Tchaikovsky
Although the Beethoven collection is not absolutely
complete, since it omits the early (pre-Vienna) Trio in E flat and the
composer's arrangements of the Opus 11 Clarinet Trio and of the Second
Symphony, all the important works are here. Anyone wanting the other
items too can investigate the recently reissued and equally distinguished
Philips collection from the Beaux Arts Trio.
In the Trios, and throughout the set, Daniel Barenboim
is the central figure, in terms of performance as well as recorded sound.
The tempi give the impression of emanating from his decisions, and while
the balances are never less than satisfactory, the piano tends to take
the leading role in the sound picture. This is not a criticism, merely
an observation of a slightly different emphasis for neither the cello
nor the violin is recessed in sound.
The performances are consistent, both in terms of the
quality of the playing (would one expect less from these players?),
and the interpretations. The latter give particular emphasis to the
personalities of Beethoven's melodies, which are generally accorded
a higher priority than either the line of development or the vitality
of the rhythmic propulsion. Accordingly, for example, the first movement
of the great Archduke Trio is given a broad tempo, which is fully justified
by the intensity of the playing. All three players communicate their
special qualities, and another highlight comes in the slow music of
the Ghost Trio, Opus 70 No. 1, in which Zukerman contributes a wonderfully
veiled and mysterious tone.
However, these players are never found wanting when
virtuoso rhythmic attack is required. A particularly enjoyable example
is to be found in the wonderfully inventive rhythmic propulsion which
underpins the finale of the early Trio, Opus 1 No. 2. This also offers
a useful reminder of how dangerous it is to underestimate the music
Beethoven composed during the 1790s, the music of his so-called 'first
The cello sonatas were recorded at the Edinburgh Festival,
in August 1970. By then Du Pré's short career was reaching its
later stages, but her performances are rich-toned and full of commitment.
Again Barenboim's contributions confirm that accompaniment is not an
issue in Beethoven's chamber music, for this is a true partnership of
equals. On many occasions, not least in the final pair of sonatas, Opus
102, the piano writing is as distinctive as in the later sonatas, and
Barenboim relishes his opportunities.
These live performances occasionally, but not too irritatingly,
suffer from audience contributions, while the recordings are warm and
ambient. The performances tend to play the music for all it is worth,
just as in the trios.
The Zukerman-Barenboim partnership has much to offer
in the violin sonatas, and here too the music making has abundant personality
and flair. More often than elsewhere in the set, the tempi can be prone
to exaggeration, the phrasing sometimes mannered, as if the artists
were trying to wring the last drop of emotion from the music. This approach
can tire, since for all his dramatic intensity and personal sensibilities,
Beethoven remains a classical composer. The best of all these duo performances
is probably the great Kreutzer Sonata, Opus 47, whose larger scale suits
the romanticised approach best.
Good though the Beethoven performances are, there is
something special about the Tchaikovsky Trio that makes it the jewel
in the crown of this substantial collection. Tchaikovsky composed the
music as an 'in memoriam' piece for his friend and fellow artist Nikolai
Rubinstein, and this performance has a wonderfully imaginative sweep
and flair. There is abundant concentration too, for one of the chief
challenges facing performers in this music is the extensive 50-minute
span, contained within only two movements.
The set comes in a handsome box, with a well-designed
booklet containing an interesting essay about the artists, written by
Tully Potter. However, those requiring information about the music itself
will need to look elsewhere.