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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Trio in C minor Op.1 No.3 (1793) [29:57]
Piano Trio in B flat, Op. 97, Archduke (1811) [43’38]
Vienna Piano Trio
rec. 2019, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster
MDG 942 2155-6 SACD [73:35]

These two favourites among Beethoven’s piano trios have been frequently paired and recorded and a new recording would have to be special to displace established choices. Fortunately, these performances meet every criterion of excellence in regard to sound and execution; the Vienna Piano Trio is among the most celebrated of its kind, playing with the kind of homogeneity and rapport which comes from long-standing interaction and experience. Here, they follow up their recording of the Op.70 piano trios with a second top-quality issue, including the most famous of Beethoven’s works in that genre. Vibrato is present but restrained, judiciously applied rather than lavished on the music and the plush, sumptuous tone of the string instruments – a 1761 Gagliagno violin and a Stradivari cello from 1698 - is much is evidence.

It is easy to hear why the youthful Op. 1 No. 3 caught Haydn’s attention and continues to be so favoured, especially when it is played as winningly as per here. The chordal punctuations of the first movement are given full emphasis but the flowing, virtuosic runs of the variations could not be more delicately articulated. The elegantly arpeggiated minuet is similarly winning and the prestissimo finale positively sparkles before its arrestingly unexpected and abrupt fade-out conclusion – something unique in the output of a composer renowned for gloriously protracted codas.

The Archduke is a more substantial work than the brilliantly effervescent C minor trio by the young Beethoven, as befits befitting the creation of a man in middle-aged maturity, and requires a weightier, more elevated manner; the Vienna Trio bring to it the requisite sombre gravity. The dense counterpoint of the academic yet tuneful Scherzo is expertly executed. The stately cantabile slow movement of variations weaves its slow, exquisite spell of enchantment convincingly and the exuberant finale bounces along in Schubertian mode as if neither its composer nor those playing his work had a care in the world.

Ralph Moore

Performers: David McCarroll (violin); Clemens Hagen (cello); Stefan Mendl (piano)

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