Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Fresh Beethoven

The challenge in presenting music from Beethoven's early period isn't necessarily to bring to bear all of one's musical capabilities as one would when playing a mature or even a transitional work. Beethoven was in his early twenties when he wrote the three piano trios that he published as his Opus 1, and he put everything he had into this music, which was sometimes a bit more than the music could bear. Put everything you have into playing them, and things might come crashing down. There has to be some slight distance, a musical smile when things get too fraught, a bit of ironic detachment: more Seinfeld than Breaking Bad. My ideal for this music is the wondrously joyful, and obviously fun music making of Daniel Barenboim, Jacqueline du Prez and Pinchas Zuckerman (those were happy days!):

You can guess that the vital TrioVanBeethoven are probably going to do fine when you see the wide smiles on their faces on the cover of this album, volume 3 in their Piano Trio series for Gramola, due to be released on August 12, 2016. And they do a really marvellous job with this trio (as they did with number 1 in volume 1; I'm assuming number 3 will be part of volume 4, to come). I especially liked the Rossinian gallop of the splendid Presto Finale. Likewise, they play the slight Allegretto WoO 39 with real grace and the tiniest bit of mock heroism, which I believe Beethoven wrote into the piece himself; he was 42 at the time.

We move into a different world entirely with the E-flat major Trio, the second the two trios of op. 70, written in 1809, when Beethoven was approaching the end of his thirties. There are dark clouds overhead that the musicians should take note of, but not to the detriment of the nostalgic beauty in the lovely third movement, or the determined almost-optimistic mood of the Finale. If the final degree of gravitas is missing in this, a favourite, under-rated work, these fine musicians make up for it with their fresh approach to all of this music. 5 stars!

Here they are, playing the op. 1 no. 2 trio at King's Place in 2015:

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