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Hyperion Records

CDA67327 - Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 1
Portrait of Beethoven, Vienna (c1804) by Willibrord Joseph Mähler (1778-1860)
AKG London
CDA67327
Recording details: Various dates
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: January 2003
Total duration: 60 minutes 0 seconds

TOP 20 DISCS OF 2003 (BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE / RADIO 3 CD REVIEW)
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MONTH, CHAMBER (BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE)

'A recording that immediately, from the first impetuous bars of Op 70 No 1, feels just right' (Gramophone)

'For an exhilarating sense of live music-making, of players constantly challenging and coaxing each other to new insights, these irresistible performances make this one of the discs of the year' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This new Florestan account of the two Op. 70 trios is outstanding in every way. The playing is quite gripping and masterly, and the sound is vivid and well balanced. These are arguably the most satisfying accounts in the catalogue, and certainly the best we have had in recent years' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'This is playing of quite extraordinary sensitivity and depth. I can hardly wait until the next volume' (The Independent)

'This is a highly auspicious beginning to the Florestans’ survey of the Beethoven piano trios … Totally convincing' (The Guardian)

'should grab even the most casual listener … a real winner' (The Times)

'Hugely enjoyable' (The Sunday Times)

'Susan Tomes' controlled, musical piano playing is a constant source of delight’ (The Strad)

'The Florestan Trio plays them with great immediacy and vigour; everything is beautifully balanced and argued out' (Classic FM Magazine)

'I can’t say I have ever heard better' (Fanfare, USA)

'dash, energy, exuberance, tempered by an acute awareness of each other … a highly enjoyable disc' (Pianist)

'Hyperion’s ability to pick outstanding musicians from the universal crop has rarely been better directed than in the case of the Florestan Trio' (Music Week)

'no current trio conveys such a spontaneous sense of enthusiasm and discovery as The Florestan … The performers bounce ideas off one another, stimulating and persuading each to reveal fresh insights and creating a wonderful sense of live music making. With very good engineering this now has to be the first choice among recordings of these works' (Hi-Fi Plus)

'The Florestan embark on the complete Beethoven piano trios, the first release pointing to a cycle that is going to be very special. The playing is unfailingly perceptive and full of musical insights … However many times you have these works in your collection, this is an essential purchase' (Yorkshire Post)

'There’s such unanimity of purpose here, three minds united in their common musical goal, and yet able to realise it without surrendering their individual character … buy this now, and wait impatiently for Beethoven volume 2' (bbc.co.uk)

The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 1
Presto  [7'28]
Allegretto  [4'45]
Finale: Allegro  [7'42]

The Florestan Trio is now firmly established as one of Britain's—indeed the world's—most distinguished ensembles, and their Hyperion recordings of Schubert, Schumann, Dvořák and Brahms have received universal praise. Now, having completed recordings of all of Schubert's music for piano trio, they embark on a series of the Beethoven trios which it is estimated will fill four CDs, to be recorded and issued over the next two or three years. The discs will include not only the well-known 'ops' (1, 70, 97) but also the less familiar chippings from the master's workshop. This first CD includes the two Opus 70 works (one of them the celebrated 'Ghost' Trio) as well as the Allegretto in B flat written three years later in 1812.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Beethoven had announced himself to the wider musical world in 1795 with his three piano trios Op 1. He then abandoned the medium for over a decade, returning to it only after completing the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony in the summer of 1808. Beethoven originally envisaged following the symphony with two piano sonatas, or another symphony; but, as he wrote to his publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, he decided on a pair of trios ‘because there is a shortage of such works’. Both trios were sketched and composed with comparative ease. The D major was finished around the end of September, the E flat a month later. That autumn Beethoven was living at the home of his close friend and (for a time) business adviser, Countess Marie von Erdödy, and it was at her musical salons that the new trios were first performed, the D major on 10 December, the E flat on the 31st. They were published in the spring of 1809 with a dedication to the countess, though by then Beethoven, true to form, had stormed out of her home after a violent quarrel over a servant.

In the Op 1 trios Beethoven had already given the two string instruments more of the limelight than they had enjoyed in the keyboard-dominated trios of Mozart and Haydn. But with the Op 70 trios their emancipation is complete. The three instruments now discourse as equals in kaleidoscopically varied textures, rich in the free contrapuntal interplay that is one of the glories of the Viennese classical style. In the D major, the only one of Beethoven’s mature piano trios in three movements, the explosive unison opening is immediately countered by a dissonant, disorientating F natural high in the cello’s plangent tenor register; the cello then slips back into D major with a beseeching lyrical melody that passes in turn to violin and piano. This opening at once establishes the highly charged, volatile nature of a movement that trades on abrupt contrasts of texture and dynamics and, in the development, some of the composer’s most rugged, rebarbative imitative writing. Inevitably in Beethoven, the flatward pull of the ‘wrong note’ F natural has long-term structural consequences, both in the recapitulation, where it initiates a poetic expansion of the beseeching cello melody in a remote-sounding B flat major, and in the finale.

The D minor ‘Largo assai ed espressivo’ which spawned the work’s nickname ‘Ghost Trio’ is the slowest slow movement in all Beethoven, and the most impressionistic. The weirdly fragmented thematic material, unstable harmonies and sombre, quasi-orchestral textures, with eerie tremolos in the bowels of the keyboard, combine to produce music of extraordinary tension and Gothic gloom. And it is no surprise to discover that Beethoven noted down the brooding opening theme among sketches for the Witches’ music in a projected Macbeth opera. The finale restores us to a world of convivial normality, with its supple, gracious themes and crystalline textures. There is whimsical humour, too, in the main theme’s hesitations and harmonic feints, deliciously amplified in the coda, while the implications of the first movement’s stray F natural make themselves felt in the brusque or ruminative shifts to distant flat keys.

The E flat trio, containing nothing as sensational as the ‘ghostly’ slow movement of the D major, has always been rather eclipsed by its companion. But it is one of the most lovable, as well as one of the most subtle, of all Beethoven’s chamber works, with a mellow, intimate tone that recalls the contemporary A major Cello Sonata, Op 69. The slow introduction, gently ruminative rather than, as so often in Beethoven, charged with mysterious expectancy, is unusually closely integrated with the main Allegro: as the music seems to be moving towards the anticipated dominant key, B flat, Beethoven recalls the introduction’s opening phrase in a mysterious G flat, before deflecting to the expected key for the breezy, waltz-like second subject. Even more surprising is the reappearance of the first part of the introduction, in its original slow tempo, in the coda. The development, characteristically, ‘worries’ at the two-note trilling figure from the main subject before taking the waltz through strange, luminous harmonic regions. Then comes the wittiest and most dramatic stroke of all, when the cello confidently initiates the first theme in D flat major, only to be instantly contradicted by the piano in E flat major: with astonishing sleight of hand Beethoven has spirited us back to the home key and begun his recapitulation before we realise it, a moment well described by Donald Tovey as ‘perhaps the most unexpected return in all music’.

Beethoven’s obvious model for the tight integration of slow introduction and allegro was the first movement of Haydn’s ‘Drumroll’ Symphony, No 103, likewise in E flat and 6/8 time. The connection between the two works carries over into their not-so-slow second movements. Both are cast as a set of double variations on two alternating and related themes, one in C minor, the other in C major. Haydn begins in C minor and ends in C major. Beethoven reverses the process, opening with a charmingly demure – and distinctly Haydnesque – C major tune, and closing with fragments of the truculent, faintly Hungarian-sounding C minor theme, linked to the C major by its flicking ‘Scotch snap’ figures. After a full variation of each theme (the C major in wonderfully airy, dancing textures), the second variation of the C major tune is drastically shortened; then, in the movement’s climactic section, Beethoven powerfully exploits the C minor theme’s exotic, Hungarian flavour, with violin and cello in turn hurling out the tune against flamboyant keyboard figuration.

The third movement, noted as a minuet in the composer’s sketches but in the autograph marked simply ‘Allegretto ma non troppo’, is in A flat rather than the expected E flat major. The trio is thus the earliest instance in Beethoven of a work with movements in three different keys, a pattern he repeated in the ‘Harp’ Quartet of 1809, where the tonal centres are again E flat, A flat and C. Hearing this exquisitely tender, lulling music ‘blind’, many listeners would exclaim ‘Schubert!’. And it left a profound effect on the younger composer in a piece like the A flat Impromptu D935 No 2. Yet this romantic intermezzo, with its contrasting ‘trio’ that dissolves magically back into the main section, also recalls Haydn by quoting the beginning of the famous Largo from his Symphony No 88. Could it be that Beethoven, who had made peace with the now frail old man at a performance of The Creation in March 1808, consciously or unconsciously conceived the whole trio as a homage to his former teacher? Certainly the genial and exhilarating finale, full of rhythmic wit and good-humoured instrumental repartee, recreates Haydn’s spirit in terms of Beethoven’s own ‘middle period’ style. In keeping with the whole trio, the movement shows a fondness for relationships between keys a third apart: the gloriously exuberant second group of themes is in G major rather than the orthodox B flat, and is later recapitulated in C major. This prolonged emphasis on C major demands a long coda affirming the tonic, E flat. But what Beethoven gives us is not so much a coda as a second, varied, recapitulation that brings back all the themes in reverse order, then subsides to a quizzical pianissimo before generating a rousing send-off from the opening scales.

As a digestif the Florestan Trio offers the little Allegretto in B flat which Beethoven composed in June 1812 for ten-year-old Maximiliane, daughter of Antonie Brentano who is now the favourite candidate as the composer’s ‘Immortal Beloved’. This deliberately easy piece is a sonata movement in 6/8 ‘pastoral’ metre, wholly free of Beethoven’s trademark developmental tension yet full of gentle, guileless charm.

Richard Wigmore © 2003


Other albums in this series
'Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio' (CDS44471/4)
Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio
MP3 £20.00FLAC £20.00ALAC £20.00Buy by post £22.00 CDS44471/4  4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
'Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 2' (CDA67369)
Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 2
'Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 3' (CDA67393)
Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 3
'Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 4' (CDA67466)
Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 4
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