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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Trios, Volume 1
String Trio in E flat, Op. 3 (c1794) [39:42];
Serenade (String Trio) in D, Op. 8 (1797) [27:02]
Attila Falvay (violin); János Fejérvári (viola); György Éder (cello)
rec. Phoenix Studio, Budapest, 7-10 January 2005. DDD.
NAXOS 8.557895 [66:44]




Three-quarters of one of the Naxos house ensembles, the Kodály Quartet, does the honours here for some lesser-known Beethoven.

History decided that string trios are fated to be string quartet’s little cousins, so it is probably apt that Beethoven’s writing in these two works has a certain outdoor aspect to it. It breathes life, a life relatively untrammelled by major emotional upheavals.

The Op. 3 Trio uses Mozart’s K503 Trio as a model, having the same number of movements (six). Yet it is in spirit entirely Beethovenian. The players here certainly try to emphasise the sunshine, although bear in mind that the rather sharp recording from Budapest’s Phoenix Studios can get in the way. Any shrillness of tone is punished heartlessly by the microphones, but at least the dryness allows the sharp rhythmic play its full due. Falvay, Fejérvári and Éder are unfailingly musical, whether in the exploratory, sometimes ruminative first movement, in the eminently civilised ensuing Andante or in the eloquent and imaginative first Menuetto (in which silence has an intriguing part to play). 

The Adagio is second only to the first movement in duration. It has breadth as well, if admittedly not the breadth of any of the quartet slow movements. Nevertheless there is a depth of utterance here that is on the same scale, perhaps, as the slow movement of the Piano Sonata Op. 10/1. The finale is given with a most affecting nonchalance, a kind of suave, throw-away feel that can only brighten one’s day. 

The shadow of the Serenade idiom falls quite strongly over Op. 3, so the Op. 8 work is the ideal partner. Here the first movement is a Marcia, given in robust fashion; importantly, Falvay negotiates the tricky ornaments without ay sense of strain. Again six-movemented, it boasts an Adagio of deeper emotions than one might imagine – very sensitively rendered here -  and as its penultimate offering a joyful, gutsy Allegretto alla Polacca; a further whinge about the recording here is that György Éder’s evident enjoyment of Beethoven’s writing is somewhat diminished by the lack of lower-register body. This piece ends with a Theme and Variations. The Theme itself is as well-behaved as can be. Beethoven, a master of the variation form, takes his material on a fascinating ten-minute journey.

It is true that this disc mirrors the content of the Leopold Trio on Hyperion (CDA67253) and cannot in the final analysis match it. But that is a full price offering, and for a fiver the three Hungarians provide ample enjoyment. Volume 2, I take it, will be the three Trios, Op. 9. Let’s hope it comes along soon.

Colin Clarke

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