The Suk Trio play Beethoven and Schubert
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3 (1794)
Piano Trio No. 5 in D major, Op. 70 No. 1 Ghost (1808)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Trio No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 97 Archduke (1811)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 99 (1828)
Suk Trio (Jan Panenka (piano); Josef Suk (violin); Josef Chuchro
rec. Domovina Studio Prague, 8-12 April 1963 (CD 1); Rudolfinum,
Prague, 29 August – 1 September 1961 (CD 2 Beethoven); 7-9 September
1964 (CD 2 Schubert)
SUPRAPHON ARCHIV SU 3959–2 [50:20 + 70:32]
Outstanding trio ensembles have never been as numerous as string
quartets – probably because the repertoire is less rich. Therefore,
it is especially good to have reissues of celebrated groups
such as the Suk Trio, especially when the performances are as
outstanding as these.
My first impression of the early Beethoven C minor trio was
relatively disappointing – I was concerned about the slight
lack of dramatic tension in the opening movement. However, I
soon changed my mind. This is a case of relative restraint and
simplicity ultimately paying dividends, the classical, tightly
controlled approach serving early Beethoven very well. In any
case, there is no lack of temperament in the development section.
In the variation-movement both aspects of the tempo direction
Andante cantabile are admirably realised. One
has confidence in the trio’s sure instinct for a most natural,
flowing tempo. The minuet is delightfully handled, with Panenka’s
upward arpeggios – and downward scales in the trio section –
ideally characterised. In the Finale (a rare
Prestissimo!) rather more Beethovenian fire is required,
and this is superbly conveyed. Here is a thoroughly well judged
and satisfying performance – one to return to many times. Indeed,
this is a feeling which consistently applies to these four performances.
Remarks by Czerny prompted the name “Ghost” for Beethoven’s
D major Trio. He described the slow movement as resembling “an
appearance from the underworld. One could think not inappropriately
of the first appearance of the Ghost in Hamlet.” However,
Beethoven’s own sketches suggest a connection with Macbeth.
Whichever tragedy seems most appropriate, the music certainly
has, in William Kinderman’s words, “an uncanny atmosphere”.
The Suk Trio choose an admirable tempo for this very unusual
indication Largo assai ed espressivo – very slow, but
not so dangerously slow that all sense of pulse is eliminated.
The difficulty here is sustaining this extremely broad tempo
for about twelve minutes, but Suk and his colleagues do this
so perfectly naturally that one forgets the possibility of any
The very opening of this D major trio is splendidly impetuous,
true to the vivace e con brio indication and throughout
the movement this initial fire is brilliantly reignited, undimmed,
each time it returns. Where some trios might aim for a “magical”
(or rather precious?) fade from the cello’s surprising F natural
- as early as bar 5 - into the following dolce phrase,
here we have no exaggeration, nothing unidiomatic in the context
of Beethoven. Here and at many similar moments during these
performances the Suk Trio allow the music to speak for itself.
There is no special “point-making”, no pushing, pulling or distortion.
To express this with positives rather than negatives, one would
say these are some of the most spontaneous, natural performances
one could wish to hear.
The opening pages of the Ghost Trio provide a perfect example
of the great chamber-music playing represented on these discs,
with the players’ own enjoyment very tangible. To generalise
further, I would state the obvious in saying that here we have
three musicians totally familiar with each other, none of them
trying to upstage the others. Some trio recordings featuring
distinguished soloists (no names) may provide strongly characterised
readings, but these are often egotistical and wilful, revealing
more about the performers than about the music. The ego-free
Suk Trio admirably demonstrate the benefits which come from
the teamwork of a group which plays together regularly. To fastidious
tastes the two string players may seem a little spiky at times
- beginning of the Archduke scherzo - but I suspect this
is simply close recording. Certainly, in this same movement
the humour and playfulness are wonderfully well captured – and
this musical characterisation is surely far more important than
any tonal or acoustical sophistication.
The Suk Trio give one of the warmest performances on CD of the
Archduke, lyrical, grand without pomposity and - again
the inescapable word – natural. The ideal slow movement tempo
(Andante cantabile ma pero con moto) often proves elusive,
though certainly not here. Again the important indications semplice
and dolce are faithfully realised, and momentum is sustained
throughout this long movement. Perhaps more difference could
have been made at the subsequent Poco più adagio, though
I cannot honestly say I felt this section in any way misjudged.
The abrupt change of mood at the beginning of the finale is
perfectly managed - Beethoven marks attacca here - and
thereafter all the skittishness and good humour beautifully
characterised. The Presto coda is excellently paced,
with no neglect of the dolce markings, concluding a life-enhancing
performance of this wide-ranging masterpiece.
Turning to the Schubert, one finds that the same fine qualities
serve these players equally well in this slightly later masterpiece.
From the very opening the manner is robust, tonally beautiful
without being over-sophisticated or manicured. This is generous
music-making, unaffected, uncomplicated, truly involved, and
with just enough feeling of risk. Little ritardandi between
phrases are adopted in many performances – not always successfully
- but here they are minimal and beautifully judged. The development
section is suitably rugged.
Again in the second movement these players show their fine instinct
for a well-judged tempo. There is no hint of the maudlin or
sentimental qualities which mar some performances, and the middle
section is particularly delightful – largely because of Panenka’s
sparkling clarity. Equally infectious is the springy, buoyant
rhythm in the scherzo, its good humour fully characterised,
while the trio section is effectively restrained – the general
dynamic is pianissimo, after all.
Of the finale I can only say that I find increasing pleasure
each time I return to this performance – the Suk Trio make such
joyful music-making seem the easiest thing in the world to achieve.
So many recorded performances are worth hearing – perhaps once
or twice – but some are permanent sources of life-enhancement.
I could not recommend this pair of CDs more highly.