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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trios - Volume 2
Piano Trio in E Flat Major, Op.1 No.1 (1795) [29:20]
Piano Trio in G Major, Op.1 No.2 (1795) [30:21]
Allegretto in B Flat Major, WoO 39 “Piano Trio No. 9” (1812) [4:39]
Xyrion Trio: Nina Tichman (piano) Ida Bieler, (violin) Maria Kliegel (cello)
rec. June 2005, Clara Wieck Auditorium, Sandhausen, Germany. DDD
NAXOS 8.557724 [64:26]
Experience Classicsonline

Naxos is putting together a very tidy series of Beethoven's piano trios. The first installment in this series (8.557723) paired the great Op. 70 trios and was greeted with great enthusiasm in these pages. This second disc of a projected five, which takes us back to the first two of the three Op.1 piano trios, is a worthy successor in every way. The catalogue is hardly short of recordings of Beethoven's piano trios at bargain price – EMI alone has complete sets from Ashkenazy, Harrell and Perlman, and Barenboim, Zuckerman and Du Pré on its Gemini label, not to mention a superb recent addition of four trios recorded by the Chung Trio. Even so, the Xyrion Trio can stand comparison with any of their rivals, and not just at bargain price. While each of Nina Tichman (piano), Ida Bieler (violin) and Maria Kliegel (cello) is a fine artist in her own right, together they play very much as an ensemble rather than a conversing group of individuals, dovetailing entries and following each other's phrasing. This quality is to be prized in the Op. 1 trios, which show Beethoven's writing at its most Classical.
The three Op. 1 trios are an important part of Beethoven's output. They comprise his first published music and Beethoven intended them to announce his arrival as a fully fledged composer. Why else would he open his account with piano trios rather than piano sonatas? He was telling the world that he could write for more than just his own instrument. After their premiere at the Vienna residence of his patron, Prince Carl Lichnowsky, Haydn counselled Beethoven against publishing the third of the series – a gesture Beethoven interpreted as jealousy but which Haydn later said was motivated by his belief that the third in the set was too progressive for contemporary tastes. He could not have thought of these first two trios in the same way. Both are quite conventional, and show Beethoven eager to prove that he had mastered the style of the day. True, his ability to write for strings is not yet fully fledged, but both works are lyrically charming and witty.
The Xyrion's performances are beautifully judged. They do not seek to impose too profound an interpretation on this delightful music. They relish the wit and sparkle of the first trio's opening movement, and bring terrific verve to the close of the second trio. The slow movements of both trios and the adagio introduction to the second trio's first movement – tracked separately here – are beautifully serene, and both scherzos laugh. Tichman is conscious of the need to ensure she does not overplay her part and so make the cello and violin sound like mere accessories. Tempos tend to be quick and this can lead to slightly blurred articulation in places – the violin at the very opening of the first trio's finale for example – but this is a minor reservation.
The encore at the end of the programme is a single piano trio movement sometimes assigned the number 9 in the catalogue of Beethoven's piano trios. Beethoven wrote this little piece for Maximiliane Brentano, the daughter of Antoine Brentano. There has been plenty of conjecture about whether Antoine was Beethoven's “Immortal Beloved”, but putting this aside it is clear that Beethoven was fond of the family. The piece is designed to allow a young pianist to display her talents at ensemble playing. Beethoven did not deem it worthy of an opus number because of its brevity and simplicity, but it is anything but facile and lilts with Mozartian charm.
The recorded sound is immediate and the balancing of the three instruments is even, with violin in the left channel, cello in the right and piano more or less centred. Liner notes by the ever reliable Keith Anderson complete a very attractive issue indeed.
Tim Perry


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