Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trios: Volume 2
Piano Trio No. 5 in D, Op.70/1 (Geistertrio) [28:59]
Variations on Wenzel Müller’s Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu, Op.121a
Piano Trio in G, Op.1/2 [33:09]
Trio Ex Aequo (Matthias Wollong (violin), Matthias Moosdorf (cello),
Olga Gollej (piano))
rec. Bundesverwaltungsgericht, Leipzig, Germany, 2014.
GENUIN GEN15344 [79:45]
This is Trio Ex Aequo’s third recording for Genuin
and their second of the Beethoven Trios, so it’s looking as if they
have embarked on a complete set.
We seem to have missed their first CD, containing the Archduke
Trio and Op.1/3 but I streamed it from
Qobuz and liked it. It’s also available for download from eclassical.com
in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless sound: their US$ price works out about
the same as Qobuz’s in £/Euro, but neither they nor Qobuz include the
booklet. It wouldn’t be my top choice among many excellent Archdukes:
I enjoyed hearing it but the coupling competes with exactly the same
from the Kempf Trio on BIS, singled out by David Barker in his survey
of the Piano Trio repertoire and highly
praised by Paul Shoemaker.
After the Archduke, the so-called Ghost Trio is deservedly
the best-known of the series, with several fine recordings to its credit.
As with the Archduke on the earlier Genuin album, the new Ex
Aequo, heard without comparison, is very good but it’s impossible to
consider it in a vacuum when there are so many excellent competitors
at all prices:
DECCA VIRTUOSO 4785153: Beaux Arts Trio, recorded in 1964,
with the Archduke and Gassenhauser Trios, the latter in
its version with clarinet, a well-filled CD at budget price. Their
later remake is available as part of a 5-CD set Philips 4684112. Either
of these would still be my overall choice for all three works and I
have used the later version as my benchmark.
ALTO ALC1141: Trio Zingara, with the Archduke Trio,
coupling the two best-known trios at super-budget price.
HYPERION CDA67327: Florestan Trio, with Trio No.6, Op.70/2
and No.9, WoO39 – or better still as part of 4-CD set of the complete
Beethoven Piano Trios, CDS44471/4
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6288: Petrof Piano Trio, with Mendelssohn
and Tchaikovsky. Reviewing
this recently, I thought it not far behind the Beaux Arts Trio in
Beethoven and competitive in Tchaikovsky.
You don’t even need to do a direct comparison, one after the other,
to perceive the differences between the Beaux Arts and Ex Aequo Trios.
As I wrote in my review of the Petrof Trio, ‘the most noticeable difference
between the Petrof and Beaux Arts Trios is the lighter touch which the
latter bring to the first movement and the greater sense of spookiness
which they convey in the slow movement. It’s in the slow movement, which
gave the work its nickname, that the Beaux Arts really score, adding
an element of fantasy to the Petrof’s very accomplished but ultimately
slightly too earthbound performance’. Substitute Ex Aequo for Petrof
and that’s equally true here.
That’s perhaps overstating the matter slightly: there’s nothing over-delicate
about the Beaux Arts performance, nor are the Ex Aequo players lacking
in sensitivity, but the former capture the largo assai ed espressivo
direction for the slow movement just a little better and, at 11:38,
their tempo seems to me to be closer to the mark than the 10:33 on the
new recording. On their earlier recording the Beaux Arts captured the
ethereal nature of the music at a faster speed – 10:26 – so it’s not
just a matter of tempo, but the extra relaxation on the later recording
suits the music even better. I know that some think that Beethoven
didn’t really intend assai to mean ‘very’, mistaking it for the
French assez, but this movement really benefits from taking it
at face value.
Though the Florestan Trio (Hyperion) are much faster on paper at 8:27,
they nevertheless put a lot of feeling into this movement. Though only
at 24/44.1 the 24-bit download of the Hyperion recording is very good
and can be yours from hyperion-records.co.uk
for an attractive price of just £7.85 (mp3 and 16-bit cost £6.99).
The box set comes in 16-bit only but at an even more attractive price
of £20. Both include the pdf booklet. The Florestan Trio performance
of the first movement is as fluent as the Beaux Arts but misses just
a little of the power of the Trio Ex Aequo. All three performances
in question adopt much the same tempo for this movement.
There’s another series of the Beethoven Piano Trios in progress, from
the Gould Piano Trio on Somm. I enjoyed their recording of theKakadu
Variations, with the clarinet versions of Op.11 and WoO38 –
review. David Dunsmore liked
their Op.1/3, Op.70/2 and WoO38 and Jonathan Woolf their Geister
Trio, Op.1/2 and shorter works (SOMMCD0114 – review).
I see that they have just completed the 4-CD set with the Archduke,
Op.1/1 and Hess 48 (SOMMCD0144). They also take the second movement
of the Geister Trio at a fast tempo – 9:40 – without sounding
Without wishing to downplay the other two trios here, there’s less difference
between the various interpretations. The Kakadu Variations perhaps
need to sound a little more humorous than they do on the new recording,
but I’ve never thought them quite as amusing as many seem to find them.
The Op.1 trios were effectively Beethoven’s calling-card to Vienna,
though still very much in the manner of Haydn. When all three Op.1
trios were first performed together Haydn was the guest of honour.
Perhaps because he thought the style too like his own music and also
because he had only just returned from London and felt over-tired, Haydn
suggested that No.3 in particular needed more work. End of relationship:
though Beethoven dedicated Op.2 to Haydn, he later suggested that he
had learned more from Salieri than from Haydn. Perhaps if Haydn had
heard a performance as fluent as that offered on this new Genuin recording
he might have thought and said otherwise.
The recording is good, even by comparison with the Hyperion 24-bit download.
There doesn’t seem to be a 24-bit download of the Genuin recording,
offer the earlier volume (GEN12217) in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless:
the 24-bit costs $18.81 which is somewhat pricey for a download without
The new Genuin booklet is printed on such thick paper that it’s almost
impossible to slide it out of the jewel box without crumpling some of
the pages. The English translation of Matthias Wollong’s notes is decidedly
odd in places: ‘In his later years Beethoven did not publish any more
series of works’. It turns out that the original is just as odd: ‘In
spätern Jahren gab Beethoven keine Serien mehr hinaus.’ What about
the late quartets and piano sonatas?
I could have been perfectly happy with this CD if I hadn’t done the
comparisons which occasioned small reservations. They are, however,
small enough not to spoil my enjoyment and you need not take note of
them if this particular coupling appeals. Overall, however, it still
seems to me that the Beaux Arts Trio on both of their recordings get
the most out of the Beethoven Trios.