BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio in E-flat, Hess 47; Piano Trio in D, Halm Anhang 3; Piano Trio in E-flat, Op. 63 – Beethoven Project Trio – Cedille

by | Jun 25, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio in E-flat, Hess 47; Piano Trio in D, Halm Anhang 3; Piano Trio in E-flat, Op. 63 – Beethoven Project Trio – Cedille 90000 118, 59:57 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

The Beethoven Project Trio is George Lepauw (piano), Sang Mee Lee (violin), and Wendy Warner (cello). This is a special disc dedicated to bringing to light music that, while not new and original, are generally pieces that were arranged by the composer or someone else for alternative forces. The project began in 2007 when George Lepauw heard about Beethoven’s Op. 63 Trio from his aunt in Paris who had attended the premiere. He tracked down the head of the Association Beethoven France and heard the whole story about this performance and tried to determine whether it had been given in America. Lepauw then began a relationship with the American Beethoven Society and began planning the U.S. premiere.

As the planning continued it was decided to add two other pieces to the concert, the D-major which would be an American premiere, and the E-flat which seemed to be a world premiere. Since Lepauw is from Chicago he pushed the idea that the concert not be given at Carnegie Hall as originally thought, but in Chicago instead. To that end he began forming his trio, seeking out Sang Mee Lee whom he had worked with before, and Lee’s friend Wendy Warner, at her suggestion. The concert, with the addition of Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio as well, was a great success, and Cedille got interested afterwards to suggest a recording. So here we are.

But what is this music, and is it worth the effort? It’s nothing that a Beethoven fan would not know about—The world premiere Hess 47 piece comes from the Op. 3 String Trio, a 1794 originally six-movement work. Beethoven himself made this arrangement, though he completed only the first movement, the addition of the piano giving the piece a very different tone indeed.

The D-major work is an original piece by the composer whose manuscript is intact in the British Museum with the exception of two pages missing in the first movement (the work has only two movements). Robert McConnell has reconstructed the piece based on its existing material and the fact that no noticeable development takes place in the piece. It is an interesting work, easily assimilated as being by Beethoven, and a valuable addition to the trio literature.

But the chief entrée is the 35-minute E-flat Trio, published originally as a “Grand Trio for fortepiano, violin, and cello” in July of 1806. This is an adaptation of the Op. 4 String Quintet, and scholars are of two minds about whether it is actually arranged by Beethoven. But because Beethoven’s name actually appears in an updated catalog of his works by Ataria from 1819, and the composer was so protective about his name, and disapproved of the then-common practice of other composers arranging music without permission, most today accept this as proof that Beethoven did indeed at least approve of the arrangement and probably did complete it himself, though conclusive verification is not yet available. Well, if he didn’t make it he should have, for it is as Beethovenian as anything else he did, and its instrumentation possesses all the hallmarks of his scoring practices. This is really an arrangement of an arrangement, the piece finding its origins in a wind octet work, migrating to string quintet, and finally ending up in piano trio format. The quintet version is quite different and obviously reworked from the octet, but the trio maintains similarity with the quintet. This piece was finalized during the same period that saw the Fourth Piano Concerto, Fidelio, the Fourth Symphony, Appassionata Sonata, and Violin Concerto, so those who do not know the Quintet can get an idea as to the quality of content.

Cedille gives this group superb sonics, captured at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, and overseen by the legendary Max Wilcox. The content-rich notes give the full story behind all these proceedings, and this important disc gets my highest accolades.

— Steven Ritter 

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