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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Variations on Wenzel Müller's song ‘Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu’ for Piano Trio in G major, Op. 121a (c. 1803, rev. 1816, 1824) [15:34]
Trio movement, Allegretto, in B flat major, WoO 39 (1812) [5:22]
Trio in B flat major, Op. 97 ‘Archduke’ (1811) [40:05]
Boulanger Trio (Karla Haltenwanger (piano), Birgit Erz (violin), Ilona Kindt (cello))
rec. 16-19 July 2012, Kammermusikstudio, SWR-Stuttgart, Germany
PROFIL EDITION PH14015 [61:36]

The playing of the Boulanger Trio has been thoroughly persuasive in its recent Shostakovich, Vasks, Brahms, Liszt and Schoenberg releases. With this new CD this Berlin-based trio continues to impress.
 
Theme and variations was a favourite form of Beethoven. From his early days in Vienna he had been adept at improvising on a single theme at the piano. It seems that the appealing Kakadu Variations were written in 1803 around the time he set to work on the Eroica Symphony. Here Beethoven uses the theme from the popular song Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu (I am the Tailor Cockatoo) from a Wenzel Müller singspiel. The Allegretto in B flat major was composed in 1812 for Maximiliane Brentano the young daughter of his friends Antonie and Franz Brentano. Discovered amongst his papers after his death the score rates high on Mozartean charm. It was not published until 1830.
 
I have great admiration for Beethoven piano trios right from his op. 1 set of three which despite their early composition date of 1793 sound mightily impressive. From 1811 the substantial Piano trio in B flat major, Op. 97 ‘Archduke’ is one of Beethoven’s finest chamber pieces. I notice on the timeline that the four movement score is positioned between the Fifth Piano Concerto ‘Emperor’ and the Seventh Symphony. Written in a concertante style the ‘Archduke’ is a work of compelling radiance that can make a powerful impact. Right from the opening Allegro moderato the firm and practised grip of the Boulanger Trio produces unfailingly civilised playing. Steadfast determination characterises the Scherzo which contrasts sharply with the strongly meditative Andante. Marked Allegro moderato, the lyrical Finale is splendidly played. The Boulanger’s robust energy meets an unyielding concentration.
 
The sound is satisfactorily balanced if not quite as vividly clear as my ideal. This eminently satisfying release from a stylish, committed and unified ensemble yields significant rewards. Although commendable the Boulanger doesn’t quite achieve the level of inspiration of the evergreen 1979/84 accounts from the Beaux Arts Trio on Philips, my benchmark recording in this repertoire.
 
Undoubtedly the Boulanger players know this Beethoven territory well. As a future source of exploration these players might look towards the glorious legacy of lyrical English piano trios such as those by Stanford, Bridge, Moeran, Ireland and Bax; maybe even the Phantasie Trios from Bridge, Friskin and Ireland that emanated from the Cobbett chamber music competitions.
 
Michael Cookson

Editor's note - this CD was apparently released in July 2014, but has not appeared on any of the usual retailer's sites.