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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in E flat major WoO 38 (1791) [14:43]
Piano Trio in C minor Op.1 No.3 (1793) [29:34]
Piano Trio in E flat major Op.70 No.2 (1808) [32:20]
Gould Piano Trio (Lucy Gould (violin), Alice Neary (cello), Benjamin Frith (piano))
rec. live, 7 December 2011, St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol
SOMM SOMMCD0120 [75:51]

This is the second volume of Beethoven Piano trios played by the excellent Gould Piano Trio. Like the first Volume, given a very favourable review by Jonathan Woolf this is recorded live at the fine venue of St. George’s Bristol. Like the first disc we are given a very early piece, one from the groundbreaking Op. 1, and one from Beethoven’s maturity. Beethoven’s piano trios are an outstanding example of his genius and developed and redefined the genre from his mentor Haydn.
Op.1 No.3 is one of my favourite works, which slightly perversely I got to know through Beethoven’s transcription for String Quintet Op. 104. The Quintet is featured in Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, with particular emphasis on the sublime slow movement. For those interested there’s a very fine version by the Lindsays on ASV CD DCA 1118. Although the Trio shows extraordinary maturity for a 23 year old, Haydn for some reason advised him not to publish it! The Gould play this superbly and the balance between the instruments is perfect and well captured by the engineers. The second movements Andante cantabile with a set of variations on a hymn-like melody is performed as well as I’ve heard it; an onward pulse never letting the music drag. What strikes me throughout is the equal strengths of the players and the way they are at one with each other. The feeling of live chamber music playing comes over very strongly. The December audience is commendably quiet and I don’t mind the applause. There are many fine versions in the catalogue but this excellent performance is in the top rank.
Fifteen years later Beethoven published the two trios Op. 70, the first of which is the much more famous Ghost - this appeared in Volume One. They were written about the same time as the demanding Razumovsky quartets Op. 59 and also the Choral Fantasia Op. 80traces of which appear in the second movement. The strength of this work is that it looks back to Haydn and Mozart yet moves the genre forward as he had done in other spheres. The whole trio is a triumph for the Gould who combine the necessary individual prowess, particularly in the powerful Finale, with a strong feeling of ensemble. It’s a reading I will return to often.
The disc also includes a piece written when Beethoven was only 21. There are only three movements. It’s a charming work but even here Beethoven is developing from Haydn in freeing the cello in the last movement. With such splendid playing it makes an apt start to this concert.
There are brief but excellent notes by Robert Matthew-Walker in English, French and German.
The Gould are to be congratulated for another very fine disc. They performed the remaining trios, including the wonderful Archduke in May last year. I for one will be awaiting the next Volume impatiently. There will be time then to compare this set with the considerable competition.
David R Dunsmore