Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio No. 5 in D major, Op. 70, No. 1 Ghost Trio (1808) [27:57]
Piano Trio No. 6 in E flat major, Op. 70, No. 2 (1808) [29:58]
Piano Trio in B Flat Major, WoO 39 Allegretto (1812) [5:58]
Risto Lauriala (piano), Tero Latvala (violin), Marko Ylönen (cello)
rec. 25-28 November 2010, Akustiikka, Ylivieska
ALBA ABCD340 [64:19]

Beautifully recorded in 5.0 SACD multichannel sound, this is the first volume of an enticing prospect from the Alba label. There is no shortage of recordings of this repertoire in the current market however, and if we are looking at more recent recordings the two Op. 70 Trios are paired on a Naxos CD (see review as ‘Bargain of the Month’), also Volume 1 of a complete set. The Xyrion Trio makes a high-impact opening to their Op. 70 No. 1, but the trio on this new Alba disc has the measure of them for drama and transparent expressiveness. There is plenty of punchy drive from the bass notes from the piano in the opening Allegro vivace e con brio, and all of the breathless suspense you could want from the strings.The ‘Ghost’ tremuli of the second movement are a little more subtle in the piano with the Xyrion Trio, but with the piano slightly lower in the recorded balance this is an easier effect to carry off. The strings integrate better with the general sound with the Alba recording, and the difficult passages with melodic features over the moody piano are the better, and the more ‘ghostly’ for it.
As ever I’m torn between versions, but ultimately I prefer the trio on this Alba recording for their greater subtlety and marginally more refined musicality. This might have something to do with the nicely proportioned recording balance and pleasant acoustic within which the musicians find themselves, but in any case these qualities carry through to the second Trio Op. 70. Elegance of phrasing and accuracy of dynamics amidst all of Beethoven’s intensity and dramatic plunges are carried off with full expressive value - not with quite the romantic extroversion of the trio with beloved combination of Barenboim, Du Pré and Zuckerman on EMI, but perhaps that’s not quite what we’re looking for these days. The Haydn Trio Vienna on Teldec/Warner Apex is also a big favourite, but in this case it is the piano which is a bit too overwhelming in terms of recorded balance. There are too many competitors to name, including the venerable Beaux Arts Trio on Philips and the excellent Florestan Trio on Hyperion, but the three musicians here can hold their own even in the most august company.
What I like about these performances is their sense of grand scale without exaggeration of gesture, the feeling of air and unhurried space around the notes without any sense of dragging or lack of intensity or momentum. The lyrical moments of the first movement of Op. 70 No. 2 can have tenderness and even fragility, but Beethoven’s highly charged sense of edgy passion is never far away, and you sense this dramatic danger in Lauriala/Latvala/Ylönen’s performance. There is a beautifully sensitive touch in the Allegretto, and the confiding intimacy in aspects of this movement are also strong in the conversational Allegretto ma non troppo which follows. There is no lack of bustling excitement in the Finale, and still with that sense of unhurried grandeur which is so impressively effective.
The final track is the Piano Trio in B flat Major which Beethoven wrote for Maximiliane Brentano in 1812. She was the 9 year old daughter of Antonie Brentano, to whom he later dedicated the Diabelli Variations. This is a charming movement, full of lyricism and open of texture, and the performance here is admirably proportionate to the demands of the music - not scaled-down in terms of expression, but given an entirely appropriate gentleness of character.
This is a very fine first volume of a set which will be highly collectable and competitive. The stereo mix is superb, but the SACD advantage this release has as a recording is not to be sniffed at, with the enhanced spatial sense a real bonus in a performance for which timing and elegance of proportion is of the essence. All this trio needs to do is give itself a collective name and we’ll be well on the way.
Dominy Clements

Highly competitive - beautifully paced and refined of expression.