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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
CD 1
String Trio in E flat major, Op.3 (c. 1792) [38:51]
Serenade in D major, Op.8 (1796-97) [27:24] CD 2
String Trio in E flat major, Op.9 No. 1(1796-98) [25:22]
String Trio in D major, Op.9 No. 2 (1796-98) [23:41]
String Trio in C minor, Op.9 No. 3 (1796-98) [23:49]
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin); Bruno Giuranna (viola); Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
rec. January 1988, Paris, France. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4777430 [66:24 + 73:12]


Experience Classicsonline

This DG
disc was originally released in 1988 and now reappears on the mid-price Grand Prix series. It is performed by the eminent trio of violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, violist Bruno Giuranna and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. The Grand Prix series features landmark recordings singled out for particular critical praise. 

The number of significant works in the repertoire composed for violin, viola and cello is surprisingly small. With the exception of Mozartís String Trio, K.563 I can think of few other precedents from around Beethovenís time apart from a few scores from Haydn, Hummel, Boccherini and two early scores from Schubert. For Beethoven the medium of the string trio preceded his love for the string quartet. The form is regarded as difficult owing mainly to the challenging and relative sparseness of the three voice textures compared to that of the string quartet. 

The first work on CD 1 is Beethovenís six movement String Trio in E flat major, Op.3. This early score from around 1792 invites comparison with Mozartís masterpiece, the six movement String Trio in E flat major, K.563 from 1788 and is described in his catalogue as a Divertimento. Although not composed to the same level of eminence Beethoven probably used the Mozart E flat major Divertimento, the first major score in the genre of violin, viola and cello, as a model for Op. 3. In this performance I loved the Haydnesque quality conveyed in the lengthy opening Allegro con brio and the inventiveness and variety of the Andante. I was struck by the syncopation in short first Menuetto and how the players accentuate the sturdy dance quality of the second Menuetto movement with Mutterís splendid gypsy feel to her violin solo. The Finale felt a touch too serious as opposed to the humour provided by the Grumiaux Trio on Philips. 

Beethoven composed his Serenade in D major, Op.8 in 1796-97. The six movement score designed along the lines of a Divertimento was issued as a ĎSerenataí by publishers Artaria in 1797. The score is often presented in five movements not six, as it is here, with the first Adagio movement not being given a separate track listing but included as the closing section of the opening movement. Characteristically the score starts and finishes with a vivacious march in the French style. There is a marked bitter-sweet quality to the opening movement and I was enchanted by the elegant and inventive Minuet. The second Adagio is a generally more serious proposition that includes two briskly agitated sections. One understands why the winning dancing theme of the Allegretto alla Polacca became highly popular. Designed as a theme and set of five variations I enjoyed the light and dreamy character of the closing movement Andante quasi allegretto. 

The second disc contains Beethovenís set of three String Trios Op. 9 that he wrote in 1796-98 and dedicated to one of his early patrons Count Johann Georg von Browne. Cast in a four movement plan and containing a generally more serious character it has been said that the Op. 9 String Trios provide parallels with the form of the quartet and the symphony. 

In the String Trio in E flat major, Op.9 No. 1 one notices how the attractive character of the opening movement, marked Adagio - Allegro con brio, is tinged with sourness. I found the playing in the second movement serene with a sense of the otherworldly. The Scherzo - Allegro is light and agreeable and is followed by the breathless closing Presto with its moto perpetuo quality. 

I was struck by the regal elegance of the opening Allegretto of the String Trio in D major, Op.9 No. 2 and the calm and sophistication of the Andante quasi allegretto. The Menuetto - Allegro is classy and refined and I enjoyed the refreshingly cool playing from the trio in the final movement Rondo Allegro. 

The String Trio in C minor, Op.9 No. 3 opens with a sturdy and muscular rendition of the Allegro con spirito. I was impressed with the controlled passion of the Adagio con espressione and one notices the angular rhythms of the resourceful Scherzo and the vigorous playing in the closing movement. 

Throughout these trios Mutter, Giuranna and Rostropovich have a refreshing and sparkling spring in their step combined with an overall intelligence and assurance to their playing. Overall I felt that their playing was unable to match the gravity and subtlety of my first choice set from the Grumiaux Trio. For their refinement and disarmingly unaffected performances the Grumiaux has won numerous plaudits. Their analogue set was recorded in 1967/68 at Eindhoven, in The Netherlands with the Op. 9 No. 2 in 1968 at La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland. My copy of the two disc digitally re-mastered set is on Philips 4563172. 

The natural musical instincts of the trio of Mutter, Giuranna and Rostropovich sparkle pleasantly and assuredly throughout to make a most rewarding and invigorating experience. The essay in the DG booklet is rather concise and not up to the standard of the Grumiaux/Philips set. I was impressed with the sound quality from the DG engineers. It† was recorded in Paris in January 1988, although I had to find that out for myself as this detail is omitted from the booklet.

Michael Cookson


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