Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in E-flat, Hess 47 (arr. BEETHOVEN from first movement of String Trio, Op.3) (1794, arr. after 1800)* [12:12]
Piano Trio in D, Kinsky/Halm Anhang 3 (1799) (reviewed and edited by Robert McCONNELL)* [12:54]
Piano Trio in E-flat, Opus 63 (arr. of String Quintet, Op.4) (1795, arrangement pub.1806) [34:12]
The Beethoven Project Trio (George Lepauw (piano), Sang Mee Lee (violin), Wendy Warner (cello))
* World premiere recording.
rec. American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City, 31 August–4 September, 2009. DDD.
CEDILLE RECORDS CDR 90000 118 [59:57]

The works recorded here have a complex history, which I am summarising: you will find a more complete account in the very full Cedille booklet, the contents of which are also available online. You can read these, hear extracts from the recording, and purchase downloads in mp3 or lossless flac here. also have this recording as an mp3 download – here.

The Beethoven Project Trio was formed with the express purpose of performing and recording all his works in that genre, though they do also perform music by other composers. The piano employed is a Fazioli Grand on loan from the Klavierhaus, New York, the violin a 1713 Stradivarius and the cello a 1772 Gagliano.

None of these works belong in the regular canon of Beethoven Trios. The E-flat Trio, Hess 47, is Beethoven’s own arrangement of the opening movement, Allegro con brio, of the String Trio, Op.3. Though it is an early work, Beethoven’s independence of Haydn and Mozart is apparent. The Piano Trio version was published as long ago as 1920, but this is its first recording. The performance is so apt that I wondered why we had had to wait so long to hear it.

The Trio in D is preserved in manuscript in the British Library, in a slightly incomplete form. Robert McConnell has reconstructed the missing two pages of the first movement, 33 bars in all. The work was formerly attributed to Mozart with the Köchel Anhalt catalogue number KA52a. It wouldn’t sound out of place in a Mozart programme, which I intend as praise, not disparagement. Once again the playing does it full justice.

The most substantial work here, the Op.63 Trio in E-flat, is a transcription of Beethoven’s Op.4 String Quintet. Despite some residual doubts that the composer himself made the transcription, the booklet confidently follows modern scholarship in accepting Beethoven’s authorship, attested on the title page of the 1806 Artaria edition, included in facsimile on page 17 of the Cedille booklet. To complicate the history of this work still further, it began life as a Wind Octet, an early work (1792), despite the fact that it was published as Op.103. In its String Quintet version, the work is available on Hyperion CDA67693, performed by the Nash Ensemble: for further information about this work’s complicated history, download the Hyperion booklet from their website here. Here, too, the playing does the music full justice, so that one would never suspect that the work had not originally been composed in this form.

For all that these works have such a complex history, they are well worth hearing and purchasing by anyone who already has some of the regular repertoire. Those not acquainted with the trios should start with No.7, the ‘Archduke’ and No.5, the ‘Ghost’ Trio. A good and inexpensive way to obtain these is on an EMI Gemini super-budget recording with the Chung Trio which I recommended as Bargain of the Month (3817512 – see review).

The performances by the Beethoven Project Trio may not be quite in the same outstanding category as the Chung Trio, but the undemonstrative playing presents the music in a very good light and the recording does the performances justice: it has real presence without being in any way obtrusive. This is Beethoven in generally affable mood, so neither the performances nor the recording need to be as up-front as for the late quartets.

Lovers of Beethoven’s chamber music who have already made the acquaintance of his ‘regular’ Piano Trios should enjoy hearing this recording of more out of the way repertoire. It should cater for more than just a niche market: indeed, I understand that Cedille’s enterprise has already been rewarded – it has already been selling well in the USA. If in doubt, subscribers to the Naxos Music Library can try it out there first.

Brian Wilson

For all who know and love the ‘regular’ Beethoven Piano Trios.