Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trios – Volume 3
Trio No. 2 in G major, op. 1/2 (ca 1794) [32:42]
Allegretto in B flat major, WoO 39 (1812) [5:18]
Trio No. 6 in E flat major, op. 70/2 (1808) [30:16]
TrioVanBeethoven (Clemens Zeilinger (piano), Verena Stourzh (violin), Franz Ortner (cello))
rec. November 2015, Franz Liszt Raiding, Burgenland, Austria
GRAMOLA 99117 [68:16]

Somehow this series had escaped my attention and that of my fellow reviewers at MusicWeb International. In my defence, as surveyor of the piano trio repertoire, I did say that I couldn’t possibly hope to cover all recordings of the big names.

Naming your ensemble after a famous composer, especially one whose works you have chosen to begin your recording career, does create something of an expectation of a “special” relationship. Violinist Verena Stourzh has “form” here, as she was a member of the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt until its disbanding in 2010. I’m pleased to report that in this volume at least, TrioVanBeethoven does have a special relationship with the great one, as they have given us stunningly good performances here.

Beethoven’s piano trios, for me, are the least stormy, most cheerful of his output. In part, this may be due to their relatively early composition. Even the final, and perhaps greatest of them - the Archduke, op. 97 - was written in his middle period. There are none to parallel the ground-breaking late quartets and piano sonatas.

The two complete works presented here are among his sunniest. His three Opus 1 trios are very much in the mould of Haydn and Mozart, and are considered by some to be lesser works. Mature Beethoven they may not be, but I have a great deal of affection for them, and especially No. 2. No. 6 may be somewhat dwarfed by those chronologically before (Ghost) and after (Archduke) but is still a great work.

My yardstick for the Beethoven trios is the Florestan Trio (review) and that remains so, despite the very significant impression that TrioVanBeethoven has made on me here. The Florestans give a brilliant performance, and I employ that adjective for both its meanings: splendid/excellent and glittering/bright. TrioVanBeethoven give a more genial and spacious reading of both works, especially Op. 1/2, where they take almost three minutes more. This is a smiling, playful even relaxed Beethoven, not necessarily adjectives normally applied to him, but not out of place in this work. Trio No. 6 is taken similarly, though the difference to the Florestans is less here. In case you begin to think these are old-fashioned big Romantic performances, let me assure you that they are not. There is nothing heavy about them; somehow TrioVanBeethoven have managed to balance a lightness of touch with a sense of repose. They provide a quite complementary view to the Florestans, whose brilliance might even be too dazzling, depending on your mood.

The sound quality lives up to the performances: immediate, natural and without any extraneous breathing or mechanical noises. When you factor in informative liner notes, you have the complete package. I’m off to buy Volumes 1 & 2, and I look forward to Volume 4 – may it not take too long to arrive.

David Barker
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