Classical CD Reviews

BEETHOVEN: The Complete Piano Trios, Vol. 2 = Gould Piano Trio – Somm

A well-sorted program of Beethoven trios; all receiving excellent performances in this live recording.

Published on July 19, 2013

BEETHOVEN: The Complete Piano Trios, Vol. 2 = Trio in E-flat Major, WoO 38; Trio in C Minor, Op. 1 No. 2; Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 70 No. 2 – Gould Piano Trio – Somm SOMMCD 0120 [Distrib. by Albany], 75:51 ****:

I haven’t heard Volume 1 in this series, but it seems that the Gould Piano Trio and Somm are mixing things up, each volume offering trios from different creative periods in Beethoven’s life. Volume 2 thus gives us Beethoven’s earliest piano trio; one of the trios with which Beethoven announced his talent to the music-loving public at large; and the composer’s penultimate trio, a fully mature work of his middle period.

That earliest Piano Trio, published posthumously without opus number, is intimate and charming, hardly sounding like Beethoven at all. The most prophetic aspect of the work is that the second movement is titled Scherzo, but around the same time (1791) Haydn was writing works with minuets that are far more scherzo-like than this nominal one from Beethoven.

Moving on four years to the third and last of the Opus 3 trios, there’s no mistaking the Beethovenian spirit in the C Minor Trio. This is one of the trios that Haydn counseled Beethoven against publishing, at least not until he had established a more extensive catalog. By his action at least, Beethoven told his old teacher to go jump in the lake. And so the trios of Opus 3 introduced the world to a radically new musical talent. Opus 3 No. 3 is the most dramatic of the lot, with its stormy C-minor opening, fraught with Beethoven’s trademark sforzandi; its scherzo-in-all-but-name Menuetto third movement; and its bounding Prestissimo finale. Only the serene, rather Mozartian variations-form slow movement fails to say “Beethoven” in a loud voice.

Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio, Opus 70 No. 1, bears a nickname, thanks to its ghostly slow movement supposedly inspired by the witches in Macbeth. And nicknames always commend a work to listeners more forcefully. Still, I prefer Opus 70 No. 2, my favorite Beethoven trio after the great Opus 97 (“Archduke”). My favorite movement is the patrician finale, where we find Beethoven in one of his Olympian moods. It’s both Jovian and jovial, and it receives a wonderfully emphatic treatment by the Gould Piano Trio (Lucy Gould, violin; Alice Neary, cello; and Benjamin Frith, piano). Indeed, all of these performances, recorded live, enjoy the discipline and polish you find in studio recordings wedded to the adrenaline rush that comes with playing before an audience. With a pianist the caliber of Benjamin Frith, how could the Gould fail to make an impression in Beethoven’s piano-driven trios? Well, it doesn’t! Fine sound as well, though I wish the Somm engineers had left out the applause. [I’ve noticed that lately on several recordings, sometimes going on for minutes! What gives?…Ed.]

—Lee Passarella

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