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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trios - Vol. 3
Trio in B flat, Op.11 for clarinet, cello and piano (1798) [20:57]
Variations on Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu, Op.121 (c.1795, rev. 1816) [17:15]
Trio WoO38 in E flat major, for clarinet, cello and piano after the Septet Op.20 (1803-5) [40:02]
Gould Piano Trio (Lucy Gould (violin), Alice Neary (cello), Benjamin Frith (piano) with Robert Plane (clarinet))
rec. live, St. George's Bristol, 29 February 2012. DDD
SOMM SOMMCD0135 [78:29]

David Dunsmore ended his review of Volume 2 (SOMMCD0120) in March 2013 with the hope that its successor would include the Archduke Trio. The Gould Trio had recorded it the previous year, but that pleasure is yet to come. Instead we have the fun Kakadu Variations and two alternative versions of music which also appeared in other forms, here performed in Beethoven's own arrangements as clarinet trios. That's a mild disappointment but it means that we get the chance to hear two comparative rarities, especially as the arrangement of the Septet, made for a single occasion as a present to a violin-playing doctor, is equally enjoyable with the violin part assigned to the clarinet. As the violin/clarinet effectively plays the part taken by the clarinet in the Septet, what we have here makes sense.

The Florestan Trio offer the piano trio arrangement of the Septet on Hyperion CDA67393, alongside Op.1/1 and 2. That would be my library recommendation but the Gould Trio come very close and in some ways they persuade me that the version with clarinet is actually more enjoyable than the alternative with violin.

The boot is on the other foot in the case of the Op.11 trio, which originally appeared in the version performed here as a clarinet trio; only later was it rejigged as Piano Trio No.4, in which guise it's usually recorded. Once again the Gould Trio persuaded me that the version with clarinet is at least as enjoyable if not more so.

By one of those coincidences that seem to happen frequently in the world of recorded classical music, the Outhere group are also about to release a recording of the two clarinet trios in performances by Ensemble Kheops, recorded in June 2007, on mid-price Rewind REW516. I believe this had only a limited release in the UK in 2008. If you're happy to dispense with the Kakadu Variations and to save around a pound in the process, based on Amazon (UK) prices - there's a rather greater price differential from Amazon (US) - you should be well served by this alternative with its equally lively performances. Give or take a second or two here and there, the approaches and tempi of the two groups are remarkably similar - both come in at 9:22 for the first movement of Op.11.

Both clarinet versions also match the chosen tempi and approach of the Florestan Trio in the conventional version on Hyperion CDA67466 (coupled with Op.1/3 and Variations, Op.44). Again, the Florestan Trio would be my library choice but I wouldn't wish to be without one of the alternative recordings.

Like the Gould Trio, Ensemble Kheops persuaded me that the clarinet version of Op.11 can more than stand its own by comparison even with the best performances of the version with violin - from the Florestan Trio and Chung Trio for example, the latter on an EMI-Warner Gemini twofer which I liked very much when I reviewed it in 2007: Bargain of the Month - review.

Of the two recordings under consideration, only the Somm release icludes the Kakadu Variations, based on the popular song Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu. Inevitably a work based on the concept of a cockatoo as a tailor is fun and it receives a lively performance here which, for me, ultimately tips the balance in favour of the Gould Trio rather than Ensemble Kheops.

Somm and some other record companies refer to the clarinet trio arrangement of the Septet as Op.38 but it's more accurately listed as WoO38 in the catalogue of his Werke ohne Opus, works without opus number. Some record companies seem to have dubbed Op.11 Gassenhauer, 'Skittles', the nickname of Mozart's Clarinet Trio. It's not the equal of that minor Mozart masterpiece but it's well worth hearing whether you choose the Gould Trio or Ensemble Kheops.

Both releases come with informative notes and both are well recorded. I can't do a detailed comparison of sound quality because I was working with an mp3 press download of the REW recording at a mere 192kb/s. If Outhere want reviewers to judge their releases adequately, they do need to offer us something better than this - at least 320kb/s and preferably lossless wav or flac. As it happens, the download sounds good enough for me to be confident that the CD will match the quality of the Somm, which is very good. Don't let the childish artwork on the cover of the REW release put you off.

We're still waiting for the Gould Trio to give us the Archduke, then. I'm sure it will have been worth the wait but I hope that it will appear soon. Meanwhile I enjoyed this latest volume.

Brian Wilson