Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Trio No. 1 in G major, op.9 No. 1 (1796-98) [26:39]; No. 2 (1796-98) [21:27]; No. 3 (1796-98) [24:43]
Trio Zimmermann (Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin); Antoine Tamestit (viola); Christian Poltťra (cello))
rec. July-August 2010 Nybrokajen 11 (former Royal Academy of Music) Stockholm, Sweden (Nos. 1 and 2) and Meistersaal, Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany (No. 3)
Hybrid Super Audio CD
BIS-SACD-1857 [73:50]
 
The Trio Zimmermannís first recording for the BIS label of Mozartís Divertimento, K.563 and Schubertís String Trio, D.471 was quite outstanding and was warmly welcomed. I have been eagerly waiting this second release which as it turns out comprises Beethovenís marvellous yet curiously underrated set of three String Trios.
 
The repertoire for the combination of violin, viola and cello is relatively small. With the exception of Mozartís Divertimento in E flat major, K.563 I can think of few precedents from Beethovenís time apart from a few pieces by Haydn, Hummel, Boccherini and two early scores from Franz Schubert. The string trio form is regarded as a difficult one owing mainly to the challenge and relative sparseness of the three voice textures compared to that of the string quartet.
 
This trio or trios was written whilst Beethoven was in this twenties. They preceded his love of composing for the string quartet. Beethoven wrote a six movement String Trio in E flat major, op. 3. An early score from around 1794 that invites comparison with Mozartís masterpiece the six movement String Trio in E flat major, K.563 from 1788 which is described in his catalogue as a Divertimento. Beethoven wrote another work for string trio the Serenade in D major, op. 8 in 1796/7. Designed along the lines of a Divertimento the six movement score was issued as a ĎSerenataí by publishers Artaria.
 
Composed in 1796/8 Beethovenís op. 9 set was dedicated to Count Johann Georg von Browne; one of his early patrons. Each is cast in four movements and is a substantial score. They are each of a generally serious character and intense drama and have become benchmarks of the repertoire.
 
In the String Trio in G major, op.9/1 one notices how the appealing character of the lengthy opening Adagio - Allegro con brio is shot through with an increasing seriousness. I found the playing in the second movement Adagio gloriously meditative with a strong sense of spirituality. The agreeable and dance-like Scherzo is light on its feet. It is followed by the breathless Finale - Presto - a headlong sprint to the finish line. I was struck by the stately elegance and refinement of the opening movement Allegretto of the String Trio in D major, op.9/2. The marvellously played Andante quasi allegretto is imbued with such calm sophistication. The Menuetto has all the refinement of a Court ball. I especially enjoyed the breezy vivacity of the playing in the final movement Rondo. It feels as if Beethoven has increased the technical difficulty and emotional content for players and listener in the String Trio in C minor, op.9/3. The three players give a robust rendition of the Allegro con spirito and I remain impressed by the controlled passion of the reflective Adagio con espressione. The resourceful yet relatively brief Scherzo sports angular rhythms and thereís sparkling and lithe playing in the Finale - Presto.
 
Now well over forty years old the evergreen accounts of the op. 9 group from the Grumiaux Trio remain staples of any serious classical collection. For their disarmingly unaffected performances and wonderful refinement it is not surprising that the Grumiaux has won numerous plaudits. Their analogue set was recorded in 1967/68 at Eindhoven, The Netherlands with the exception of op. 9/2 which was set down at La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland in 1968. My copy of this digitally re-mastered double set is on Philips 456 317-2 (c/w String Trio, op. 3, Serenade, op.8).
 
The BIS engineers recorded the Trio Zimmermann in Stockholm and Berlin and have secured crystal clear and well balanced sound. Displaying impeccable teamwork the players give these splendid Beethoven scores with a spring in the step and a sparkle in the eye yet they also draw deep to achieve a remarkable gravitas to set alongside an abundance of spirit in these assured and tasteful performances. This marvellous BIS disc was a delight from start to finish and ranks alongside the renowned recording from the Grumiaux Trio.
 
Michael Cookson
 
A delight from start to finish.