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
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 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.