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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
The Complete String Trios
String Trio in E flat major Op.3 (before 1794) [42:04]
Serenade in D major Op.8 (1796-97) [30:56]
String Trio in G major Op.9 no.1 (1797-98) [25:19]
String Trio in D major Op.9 no.2(1797-98) [25:21]
String Trio in C minor Op.9 no.3(1797-98) [23:10]
Jean Pougnet (violin); Frederick Riddle (viola); Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. 1952
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR977/8 [72:59 + 73:50]

This isn’t the first time that Forgotten Records has disinterred recordings by the best British string trio to have recorded. They cannily restored the very unusual recordings of three of the six 1783 string trios of little-known Charles Henry Wilton not so long ago (review). As I’ve noted before in previous reviews, the Pougnet-Riddle-Pini trio also recorded the string trios of Berkeley, Dohnányi, Françaix, Haydn and Hindemith on LP. The brilliant Moeran Trio recording of 1941 was on 78s, and has already been transferred to CD (review).

In terms of bulk however the most glaring omission from the restoration programme has been that of the Beethoven string trios. Those tempted to acquire the Westminster LPs, having long since despaired of any CD reissue, should be careful of the fake stereo Westminster box and go instead for the individual 1952 monos. But now, fortunately, you needn’t burden your turntable, should you have one and should you not want to, because FR has come to the aid of collectors with this generously filled twofer that contains the complete sequence of recordings.

The playing, as one would expect of such distinguished players, is masculine, purposeful and rhythmically buoyant. Phrasing is full of astute detail but never fussy; chords are often arresting and punchy; the ensemble is watertight and individual and corporate technique is at a high level. The recording is quite forward so tends to be aligned most to Pougnet, whose playing, especially in the upper register, had a tendency to shrillness. It imparts a nervousness and tension to the line that is both bracing and vital and fortunately Riddle and Pini don’t sound too disparate in colour. The cantabile instruction in Op.9 No.1’s slow movement is superbly cantilevered and the trio makes the opening of Op.9 No.2 both supple but incisive. The succeeding movement’s pizzicati pop explosively here. The most tonally expressive and indeed fervent playing comes in the slow movement of Op.9 No.3 where the rich solemnity of the playing can be savoured to the full. There’s a stoic, reserved nobility of expression that is particularly impressive.

Should it matter – and it would not have been an overwhelming concern at the time these recordings were made - not all repeats are taken.

If you strain hard you’ll just be able to hear high end LP detritus from time to time but frequencies haven’t been compressed and there’s air around the instruments that ensures these faithful and fine transfers work to the advantage of the ensemble. There are no notes but there are some internet links.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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