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Hyperion Records

CDA67393 - Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 3
CDA67393
Recording details: December 2002
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: April 2004
Total duration: 71 minutes 1 seconds

'The Florestan Trio seems determined to extract every last ounce of energy, wit and spirit from these early works … the principal vehicle for conveying the music's brightness is Susan Tomes's finger-work, wonderfully precise and rhythmical' (Gramophone)

'Susan Tomes's dancing, crystalline passagework is a constant delight; instrumental repartee is delectably crisp and pointed; and the players are acutely alive to the sudden moments of stillness and harmonic darkening' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This is the third volume of the Florestans' four-CD set of the complete piano trios; like its predecessors, it's a winner … the first two trios, recorded here, are among the young composer's most engaging, entertaining and genial works, and they get performances of characteristic swagger, brio and wit from this elite ensemble, perhaps the finest contemporary exponents of this repertoire performing on modern instruments today. Sample the irresistible elan of the allegro first movements and dazzling presto finales, and be won over' (The Sunday Times)

'The Florestan Trio's performance is vivid and dynamic' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Everything about this release is distinguished: superb engineering that puts the performers squarely in the room; virtuosic execution, with precision prevailing, even in the most rapidly executed runs; careful attention to balances, detail, and dynamics; and, perhaps most important, tempos that invariably hit the right emotional and aesthetic bull's eye' (Fanfare, USA)

'This ensemble are probably the finest current interpreters of this repertoire on modern instruments, and their superb playing supplies some extra vigour and wit … with Hyperion's very good sound, this this has got to be a winner and has therefore got to receive a firm recommendation' (Hi-Fi Plus)

'Hearing what these players can do with Beethoven in his early stages sharpens the appetite for the other courses in the Beethoven trio cycle' (San Francisco Chronicle)

'The listener's attention is constantly sharpened by the lucidity of this performance … a performance equal to the music itself' (Nineteenth-Century Music Review)

'The Florestan Trio’s collection of Beethoven trios is rounding itself out to be an outstanding cycle of an extraordinary standard. Now we have the opus 1 trios … the feeling of freshness and newness in the Florestan’s playing is highly virtuosic, yet witty and sensitive. Seldom is the vexing question of the balance between piano and string instruments so convincingly solved as here. The perceptiveness of the three musicians is enhanced by the fine recording technique' (Klassik-Heute.com)

The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 3
Allegro  [9'23]
Adagio cantabile  [6'47]
Presto  [7'12]
Presto  [7'16]
Allegro moderato  [4'04]

In early November 1792 the twenty-one-year-old Beethoven left his native Bonn for Vienna. His plan was to study composition with Haydn, by now an international celebrity, before conquering the city as a composer-performer. Soon after his arrival he became a house guest of Prince Karl Lichnowsky who held regular private soirées at which Beethoven would astonish the company with his brilliant keyboard improvisations; and it was at one of these soirées that he chose to introduce his first important Viennese compositions, the set of three piano trios which he published by subscription in August 1795. Haydn, recently returned from his second triumphant London visit, was present at the soirée, and warmly praised the E flat and G major trios which are presented on this new disc by the ever-flourishing Florestan Trio.

Beethoven was determined to create a stir in the world with his Opus 1, and seems to have laboured long on the trios, revising them extensively before publication. He had first ventured a piano trio in 1791, and it was no accident that he chose the medium to announce himself to the wider musical world. The combination of violin, cello and piano was a favourite with amateurs, promising healthy sales, and it assured Beethoven a star role on his own instrument.

Op 1 was enthusiastically received, and made the composer a handsome profit. Each of the trios is in four movements rather than the two or three expected in chamber music with piano: these are not elevated divertissements, but symphonies for three instruments.

The third of the Op 1 trios will appear on the fourth, and final, volume of the series, scheduled for release later in 2004.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In early November 1792 the twenty-one-year-old Beethoven left his native Bonn for Vienna, then vying with London as Europe’s musical capital. His plan was to study composition with Haydn, by now an international celebrity, before conquering the city as a composer-performer. For all their ‘despairing frivolity’ (to quote A J P Taylor), the fin de siècle Viennese aristocracy was the most musically enlightened in Europe; and with the help of aristocratic contacts, the fiery sans-culotte quickly made his mark in the city’s salons. Soon after his arrival he became a house guest of Prince Karl Lichnowsky, a talented amateur pianist who kept his own string quartet. The Prince held regular private soirées at which Beethoven would astonish the company with his brilliant keyboard improvisations; and it was at one of these soirées that he chose to introduce his first important Viennese compositions, the set of three piano trios which he published by subscription in August 1795 with a dedication to Lichnowsky. Haydn, recently returned from his second triumphant London visit, was present at the soirée, and warmly praised the E flat and G major trios. But he suggested that the third trio, in C minor, would not be easily understood by the Viennese public – a well-intentioned remark that the ever-touchy Beethoven put down to envy on the part of his former teacher.

Beethoven was determined to create a stir in the world with his Opus 1, and seems to have laboured long on the trios, revising them extensively before publication. He began work on No 2 in 1793, and on No 3 in 1794, while sketches for No 1 almost certainly date back to the Bonn years. Beethoven had first ventured a piano trio in 1791, and it was no accident that he chose the medium to announce himself to the wider musical world. The combination of violin, cello and piano was a favourite with amateurs, promising healthy sales. It assured Beethoven a star role on his own instrument. And unlike, say, the string quartet and the symphony, it had not been central to the output of Mozart or of Haydn, whose wonderful series of late trios was introduced to Vienna only after his return from London in August 1795.

Despite Haydn’s misgivings about the C minor, Beethoven’s Op 1 was enthusiastically received by both ‘connoisseurs’ and amateur musicians (‘Kenner und Liebhaber’ – a favourite eighteenth-century distinction), and made the composer a handsome profit. Yet with their largely emancipated string parts, their weighty, extended sonata structures and their intensity of musical dialectic, the three works must have seemed like a headlong assault on the traditional notion of the piano trio as a small-scale domestic genre. Each of the trios is in four movements rather than the two or three expected in chamber music with piano: these are not elevated divertissements, but symphonies for three instruments. And if the cello sometimes doubles the keyboard bass, as it rarely does in Beethoven’s later trios, it often asserts its individuality in a way that Mozart only intermittently and Haydn almost never allowed.

The first two movements of the E flat major Trio, No 1, are the most obviously Mozartian in the set, though the opening Allegro’s textural richness, thematic abundance and sheer breadth of scale are hallmarks of the young Beethoven. There is expansion at almost every level: say, in the second group’s leisurely proliferation of themes, beginning with a quiet chorale-like melody spiced with sforzando accents; or in the huge coda, in effect a second development, where first piano and then strings further exploit the movement’s opening ‘rocket’ figure, at one point nonchalantly turning it upside down.

The Adagio cantabile in A flat is just as expansive, a luxuriant rondo with a first episode fashioned as a soulful love duet for violin and cello (in its eloquent middle and upper registers) and an impassioned second episode in the outré key of A flat minor – calculated to appeal to the Kenner among Prince Lichnowsky’s audience. The third movement is the most subversively original in the work, and the first of Beethoven’s true scherzi: with its initial tonal ambiguity (the music feints at C minor, F minor and B flat before finally establishing E flat in bar 15), its comical obsession with the ‘flicking’ opening figure, and its mingled cussedness and mercurial lightness, it leaves its minuet model far in the background.

If the spirit of Mozart lies behind the first two movements, the sonata-form finale suggests Haydn in its verve and brilliance, and in the witty capital Beethoven makes of the initial leaping figure. But the coda is again expanded beyond Haydn’s dimensions into a second development. Its sly opening shift from E flat to E major and subsequent fortissimo wrench back again are an early example of a Beethoven ploy that will find its comic apotheosis in the finale of the Eighth Symphony.

The G major Trio immediately establishes its symphonic scale with an imposing slow introduction – something unheard of in a piano trio, and rare even in a string quartet. But the start of the Allegro lightens the atmosphere with a wispy, capricious theme that hovers on the dominant rather than emphasizing the tonic, G – shades here of Haydn’s ‘Oxford’ Symphony. Haydnesque, too, is the way this theme derives from phrases in the introduction. Beethoven is less lavish with his material than in the E flat Trio, though there is a delightfully jaunty ‘second subject’, proposed by the violin and then elaborated by the piano. But the first theme dominates both the development and the typically ample coda, where Beethoven continues to make witty and whimsical play with the theme’s opening phrase.

Haydn and Mozart wrote many Andantes in gently swaying 6/8 siciliano rhythm. But only rarely did they compose a siciliano in the slower, Adagio tempo. It is characteristic of the young Beethoven’s search for increased profundity of expression that the second movement of the G major Trio combines a siciliano lilt with an unprecedented hymn-like solemnity. The tempo marking, Largo con espressione, is itself novel and significant; and the rapt atmosphere is enhanced by the choice of key, E major, which sounds remote and radiant after G major. Beethoven shows a typical feeling for long-range tonal planning when he later plunges dramatically (with a sudden fortissimo) from B major to the work’s home key of G, initiating a searching modulating development of the opening theme.

Though definitely a scherzo rather than a minuet, the third movement is less wilful than its counterpart in Op 1 No 1, playing insouciantly with rising and falling scales, à la Haydn. The Trio turns to B minor for a laconic waltz of comic banality – the kind of music likely to turn up in Beethoven’s works from the early years right through to the visionary late quartets. After the return of the scherzo Beethoven appends a brief coda that toys with the theme’s opening figure before dying away to pianissimo.

The finale was originally in 4/4 time. But at an early run-through the cellist Anton Kraft (best-known for his association with Haydn) suggested that the music would be better notated in 2/4, and Beethoven duly adopted the idea. Opening with a catchy ‘riding’ theme in rapid repeated notes (perfect for the violin, but artfully refashioned when the piano takes it over), this is another movement that infuses Haydn’s spirit with Beethoven’s own brand of boisterousness. The music is full of aggressive sforzando accents, rough dynamic contrasts (at their most extreme in the coda) and mysterious or dramatic plunges to distant keys. The development alights for a while in E major, the key of the Adagio – another instance of Beethoven’s large-scale tonal strategy. But perhaps the wittiest moment of all comes with the start of the recapitulation. Here a smooth new figure in octaves on the piano seems to be preparing for the return of the ‘riding’ theme, which then enters unobtrusively, before we realize it, while the piano octaves continue as if nothing has happened.

As a bonne bouche The Florestan Trio offers a rarely aired work from Beethoven’s last years in Bonn: the Trio in E flat, WoO38, written in 1790 or 1791 and doubtless played by the composer with members of the Elector’s orchestra. This slender, amiable three-movement work seems almost tentative beside the ambitious Opus 1 trios. But it contains much charming, unassuming music, together with occasional prophetic touches like the subtle elision of development and recapitulation in the first movement. The development introduces a new falling arpeggio figure that Beethoven fleetingly recalls in the coda and was to put to more dramatic use a few years later in the Piano Sonata in F minor, Op 2 No 1.

The middle movement is also in E flat, making this a rare Beethoven work that retains the same key and mode throughout. Though labelled ‘Scherzo’, this is really a minuet, gentler and more decorous than the examples Haydn was producing by this time. The delightful Trio is a bucolic German dance. For the finale Beethoven writes an easy-going rondo whose lilting theme is varied on each of its reappearances. The cello has more independence here than in the earlier movements, especially in the imitative dialogues in the second, ‘developing’ episode. The quiet sideslip to a surprise key in the coda is an early example of a Haydnesque gambit which Beethoven would fruitfully exploit in the years to come.

Richard Wigmore © 2004


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. 1' (CDA67327)
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MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99Buy by post £10.50 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £7.85ALAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £7.85 CDA67327  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'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. 4' (CDA67466)
Beethoven: The Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol. 4
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