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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Piano Trios – Volume 5
Concerto in C major, Op.56 ‘Triple Concerto’ (1805) [34:31]
Piano Trio in E-flat major, Op. 38 after the Septet, Op. 20 (1799) [38:42]
Van Baerle Trio
Residentie Orkest The Hague/Jan Willem de Vriend
rec. 2019, Atrium Meppelweg, The Hague; MCO-1 Hilversum, the Netherlands.
Hybrid multichannel SACD/CD reviewed in SACD stereo.

Volume 4 of this series (review) fooled me into thinking it was the last one, and even the booklet notes for this release admit it “might surprise some listeners” to encounter the Triple Concerto in such a set, but pleasantly to be sure. Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is lighter than his other concertos, maintaining a chamber-music feel, under-using the piano to a certain extent, and while having plenty of lyrical charm and spark not really delivering themes that stick in the memory. Recorded in the Residentie Orkest’s temporary lodgings the balance here is fair, though the winds and brass seem a bit recessed and the acoustic is only just big enough. To my ears the whole thing could have used a few extra metres of space around the orchestra, but detail is certainly preferable over swampiness in this case. As pointed out this need not be such a disadvantage, and there is plenty of lightness and life in the playing from the Van Baerle Trio, who especially relish the machine-gun notes of the final movement.

This is a fine performance of the Triple Concerto, and collectors completing their set of these recordings will not be disappointed. This is not obscure repertoire however, and if you want a performance with a bit more electricity then try Barenboim on EMI/Warner (review), or even his more up to date Deutsche Grammophon version (review), which is a bit more impressive and bigger-boned than the present recording.

More impressive and musically engaging is the Piano Trio Op. 38, which is one of a number of arrangements made of Beethoven’s popular Septet, Op. 20. The Van Baerle Trio makes as good a case as you could imagine for this piano trio version, with their freshness, wit and lightness of touch. There is playfulness throughout, and the Adagio cantabile second movement isn’t turned into something artificially profound in this performance. This is Beethoven pushing at the boundaries of Classical influence rather than turning it on its head, the form here being related to divertimenti by Mozart but seeing Beethoven providing his own fingerprint in terms of thematic relationships and innovations of tonality. The Van Baerle Trio’s performance is highly attractive, artistically attentive to the details in Beethoven’s skilful arrangement, and while each of these three musicians plays superbly pianist Hannes Minnaar’s touch is the grease in the machine that makes it all run so delightfully effortlessly. With alternatives such as that with clarinet and bassoon around there are fewer recordings of the piano trio version around than you might expect, and with such an excellent recording I have no hesitation in making this my favourite in this setting.

Dominy Clements

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