The Vienna Piano Trio’s Beethoven, Then And Now

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

In 2000 Nimbus released bracingly direct renditions of Beethoven’s Trios Op. 1 Nos. 2 and 3 with the Vienna Piano Trio that easily warranted reference status. Pianist Stefan Mendl returns to the C minor (Op. 1 No. 3) nearly 20 years later with violinist David McCarroll in place of Wolfgang Redik, and cellist Clemens Hagen instead of Marcus Trefny.

Fussy and self-aware details have crept into the interpretation over time. Note, for example, the arch phrase taperings and diminuendos in the Allegro con brio’s exposition, or how newly conceived dynamic inflections seem to undermine the once hard-hitting impact of the Menuetto’s sforzandos. On the Nimbus edition, Redik and Trefny sweetly sing out their contributions in the second-movement variations, while McCarroll and Hagen use less vibrato, giving the impression of pulling back. While both Prestissimo finales are models of control and polish, I prefer the Nimbus team’s forceful accentuation and intensity in loud tuttis.

Finely honed and carefully dovetailed ensemble playing consistently graces all four “Archduke” movements. I like the Trio’s alla breve attitude in the opening Allegro moderato, but the string players’ overly calibrated soft-level dynamics convey more preciousness than dramatic tension. The same holds true for the Scherzo’s occasionally telegraphed subito fortes and subito pianos.

It takes some time for the musicians to open up and fully project in the great Andante cantabile variations. Their lithe and supple Allegro moderato finale abounds with colorful shadings, yet the brasher and better engineered Freddy Kempf Trio revels more in the music’s virtuosic potential while honoring Beethoven’s directives on faith. In short, the Kempf Trio’s Op. 1 No. 3/Archduke coupling retains primacy, as does the earlier Vienna Piano Trio Beethoven C minor on Nimbus.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This coupling: Kempf Trio (BIS)

  • BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN:
    Piano Trio in C minor Op. 1 No. 3; Piano Trio in B-flat major Op. 97 (“Archduke”)
  • MDG - 942 2155 6
  • SACD

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