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Beethoven: Complete Piano Trios, Vol 2 - Van Baerle Trio

Beethoven: Complete Piano Trios, Vol 2 - Van Baerle Trio

Challenge Classics  CC 72778

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Beethoven: Piano Trio, Op. 1 No. 2, Symphony No. 2 (arr. Beethoven), Allegretto, Hess 48

Van Baerle Trio


Chamber music arrangements of symphonies were very common in the late 18th and early 19th century, and it is probably true that a large proportion of the people who were familiar with the symphonic repertoire at the time were so because of them. The Second Symphony is the only one for which Beethoven himself produced an arrangement, although there is evidence that his student Ferdinand Ries did the bulk of the work, with Beethoven adding the finishing touches.

Of the three piano trios published under op. 1, the second announces its pretentions to the symphonic genre earlier than its siblings and has several common points with the Second Symphony that was written ten years later.

The Allegretto in E-flat, Hess 48, probably was one of the first works for piano trio that Beethoven wrote, dating back to the early 1790s. Its form is a short, but humorous conversation between three different instruments.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - June 21, 2018

The short of it is that this second volume is just as good as the previous one, holding the promise of a top recommendation once the set is completed. The question then is: how complete is complete and what does it include.

Beethoven has composed 13 pieces for piano trio, though, according to recent research and discoveries, there are more, like for instance the arrangement of the string quintet (Op. 63) or unfinished sketch (Hess 47) and WoO Anhang 3. Indeed, not all are regular piano trios. Two of the 13 are also scored for a clarinet in lieu of the violin (one of them being a reduction of Septet Op. 20). And furthermore the set of variations on the song ‘Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu', or the set of 14 variations Op. 44. And what about the two ‘Werke ohne Opusnummer’ (WoO) Nos. 38 and 39?

So far no clues have been given as to what we may expect. However, by including in this volume Beethoven’s arrangement for piano trio of the second symphony and the Allegretto H 48, it looks as though we may well end up by getting most, if not all of them. That would be wonderful. The more so as other ‘complete’ sets have left out one or more.

What in Vol. 2 is on offer is, apart from the short Allegretto H 48, an interesting combination of Trio Op. 1 No. 2 and the arrangement of the second symphony. As explained in the liner notes, both have similarities in structure and style. Beethoven’s second piano trio has the pretention of a ‘symphonic genre’. Like the other two Op. 1, four movements, but it “is the only one to open with a slow introduction, at that time a feature still commonly associated with symphonies”.

That may be so, but for the non-initiated listener there are more differences than similarities. Trio Op. 1 No. 2 has all the hallmarks of a chamber work in the style of Haydn, with equal partners, whereas the piano trio arrangement of the second symphony gives, for obvious reasons, much prominence to the piano, having to fill in all instruments not covered by the violin and the cello. Moreover, it poses real challenges to the musicians. No doubt reason why it is rarely played or recorded, and often omitted from complete sets.

It would perhaps be taken things too far to suggest that there are no other trios who can play it at least as well, like the award winning Wanderer and Florestan trios (RBCD), but the Van Baerles happen to have several advantages the others don’t. First of all, and maybe most strikingly, we are dealing here with a combination of playing and recording of outstanding quality, which makes it stand out above most of the contenders of older date and released in low-res. Secondly, the use of Chris Maene’s ‘Straight Strung Concert Grand’, with its undistorted cross sound, lending these accomplished performances a rarely heard warm sonority. And finally, the not to be neglected asset that until now there is no other complete set available in high ‘Bert van der Wolf guaranteed’ resolution.

Taking all this together, I’m confident that this second volume will please even the most demanding listener, whetting our appetite for what is still to come.

Blangy-le-Château,
Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2018 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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