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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in B flat Archduke Op.97 (1811) [39:59]
Lasse THORESEN (b. 1949)
The Descent of Luminous Waters (2002) [26:00]
Grieg Trio
rec. May 2006, Ostsiden kirke, Fredrikstad. DDD

This is the third disc in an enterprising cycle of Beethoven's piano trios performed by the Grieg Trio of - where else? - Norway. There are a plethora of cycles available in all price brackets. EMI alone has two complete cycles available on its Gemini label from Barenboim/du Pré/Zukerman and Ashkenazy/Perlman/Harrell, as well as a newly released pair of CDs featuring the Chung Trio. This Simax cycle, though, has a distinguishing feature. Like Michael Gielen's Mahler cycle on Hänssler, the Grieg Trio's Beethoven cycle couples each of the master's piano trios with a work in the same medium by a contemporary composer. The first instalment, released in 2002, coupled Beethoven's C Minor Trio, Op.1, No.3, the Kakadu Variations and the early Allegretto WoO 39 with Jouni Kaipainen's Trio III. A second disc, released last year, saw Beethoven's Op.1 No.2 and Op.70 No.1 "The Ghost" framing Peter Maxwell-Davies' A Voyage to Fair Isle. With this release the other Op.70 trio is paired with a new trio by Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen.

This performance of the Archduke is refined, relaxed and brimful of quiet contentment. It almost sounds like Beethoven really meant to write this trio in F major rather than B flat, so close is the mood of this performance to that of the Spring Sonata and the Pastoral Symphony. It is not so much that the Grieg Trio are slower than their rivals on record, but more a question of emphasis. The Chung Trio, for example, take roughly the same amount of time over each movement, but find an energy in the music that makes their account of this genial piece consistently exciting. The Grieg Trio do not so much miss this energy as leave it to one side. Overall they prefer to concentrate on the gentle flow of Beethoven's ideas, emphasising the moderato in the allegro moderato of the opening and closing movements, and the cantabile of the andante cantabile third movement. The latent energy does emerge in the scherzo, which is nicely pointed, but even here the effect is charming rather than jocose. The Grieg Trio's approach makes for an interpretative point of difference which may, depending on your position on beautiful Beethoven, persuade you to purchase.

Thoresen's The Descent of Luminous Waters arcs in a single movement through an impressionistic sound world. The title is more than pretty language, as the piece is in essence a tone poem for piano trio. In quieter passages, as at the opening, you can almost see splashes and the reflection of light off the water's surface, with a burbling wash of notes issuing from the piano underneath the dancing violin and cello lines. The crystalline quality of the writing for violin in particular recalls the sound world of Ravel here, while the spread of the harmonic fabric reminds me of Takemitsu. Rougher music, like water cascading over and being churned up by rocks and debris, begins to alternate with the quieter splashy music, and here the thumping chords from piano and strings take on an angry minimalist colour. Thoresen's idiom is not at all difficult, but nor is it facile. This is engaging music that holds the attention for its full 26 minute duration and is a worthy addition to the piano trio literature.

In both works, the Grieg Trio play with tight ensemble and particularly in the Beethoven genuinely beautiful tone. With detailed liner notes by Malcolm MacDonald, and clean recorded sound (mastered at Abbey Road), this really is quite an attractive disc.

Tim Perry


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