> BEETHOVEN trios Szeryng Fournier [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in D major Op 70 "Ghost"
Piano Trio in B flat major Op 97 "Archduke"
Wilhelm Kempff, piano
Henryk Szeryng, violin
Pierre Fournier, cello
Recorded 1970
Deutsche Grammophon Eloquence 463 238-2 [71.04]



Amongst the many recommendable discs now emerging from Australian Eloquence is this DG issue devoted to the two most outstanding Beethoven trios. The three instrumentalists were of differing musical backgrounds. Fournier, a cellist in the Franco-Belgian school, Szeryng a Flesch pupil, though certain aspects of his playing seem over time to have migrated to a more French position (notably his bowing) and Kempff himself, trained as organist and composer and solidly Germanic in his training in Potsdam, under his professor, Barth, and in Berlin. Their stylistic unity however is resoundingly evident and no disjunctive pressures detract from it.

The Ghost Trio opens with nicely trenchant accents and with some yielding string phrasing. Unusually there is also some remarkably uncontrolled vibrato usage from Szeryng – most unlike him – which, since he repeats the phrase he must mean but which sounds distinctly unattractive to my ears. Szeryng was a magisterially superior player but one occasionally prone to rather faceless playing. It is Kempff who leads the harmonic winding of the first movement and the three musicians are constantly alive to the profile of each movement – and not just the extraordinary Largo assai where the string players succeed in heightening what the sleeve note writer, Carl Rosman, calls "spectral wanderings" through the use of some aristocratically reserved phrasing. The finale is bright and bustlingly buoyant, all three players equally assured.

The greatest of the trios, the Archduke, receives a less comprehensively admirable performance. For all the technical address, the tonal variety and confidence, I find the first movement afflicted by an almost imperceptible laissez faire. It never seems really to activate as it should, responses are muted, discourse operating at a relatively low level of engagement. In the slow movement there is some artificial sounding phrasing and a consistent lack of real depth - a feeling of the movement being over manicured with some over emphatic and mannered staccato playing from Fournier in his exchanges with Szeryng, who, whilst technically irreproachable, sounds bland. The finale is taken at a very deliberate tempo – emphasising Beethoven’s moderato marking certainly but at the expense of motoric conviction. As a result the sectionality of the movement is emphasised but Kempff can be very loud here – I don’t think this entirely the fault of the recording – and occasionally splashy as well. There is something unattractively ponderous about it all for all the excellence of the string phrasing. And whilst one is alerted to the harmonically ingenious writing it is to the detriment of the musical argument. The ending is also rather thrown away. Not an Archduke in the same league as the Kogan-Rostropovich-Gilels, I’m afraid.

I admired the Ghost but found the Archduke frustrating at almost every turn – so a very cautious recommendation for the former in the light of the latter.

Jonathan Woolf

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