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Mon, 04 Jul 2005

Beethoven, piano

Beethoven – Complete Music for Piano Trio, Vol 4
The Florestan Trio

Piano Trio in c minor Op 1 No 3
Variations in E flat Op 44
Piano Trio in B flat Op 11

Recorded in Henry wood Hall, London, on 7-9 September 2003
HYPERION CDA67466

Anthony Marwood – violin; Richard Lester – cello; Susan Tomes - Piano

Early Beethoven features on this disc, opening with a spirited performance of the sublime Op 1 No 3 trio. There are few groups around today that match the Florestan Trio for sheer polish of sound and integrity of intention in the classical repertoire. This writer has long been a particular fan of Susan Tomes and this disc is further good proof of why. She has an instantly recognisable sound, exemplified by warmth of touch but almost crystalline bell-like quality of timbre. Famous, of course, for her work with Domus before forming the Floristan Trio Tomes is so steeped in classical Chamber music that she appears to breathe the style with as much ease as Beethoven did. Her sound is simply absolutely right for this music. There is often in early Beethoven, as in Mozart, the combination of virtuosity together with melodic and harmonic subtlety. Susan Tomes brings this combination very much to the fore in her performances. The balance between hands, the shape of the melodic phrase, the direction of the line; all of this is so well judged and aided by the beauty of Anthony Marwood’s violin playing. The cello has a lesser role in the Op 1 trios, but comes to the fore in the variation slow movement, being especially enjoyable in the languid fourth variation solo.

The Variations in E Flat are based on a popular operatic tune by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. A fairly long delay in publication caused the misleadingly high opus number. These variations are another early work, dating from just before Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna. Cast firmly in the Rococo style, with the theme always recognisable, this is Beethoven in urban salon mood. The variations are largely delicate ornamentations of the theme and the Florestan Trio perform them with such delicacy and lightness that they make a most effective interlude in the disc, even if they are not Beethoven’s greatest outpouring in the variation genre.

Variations are also prominent in the B Flat Op 11 trio, this time on an operatic tune from Joseph Weigl’s 1797 work L’amor marinaro (‘Love at Sea’). This variation finale, a frothy and witty confection, Beethoven did consider replacing, possibly thinking it too lightweight, and allowing it to stand alone. A further unusual feature of the work is that it was originally scored for clarinet, cello and piano. Beethoven re-scored it for standard piano trio to maximise sales, making few adjustments to the clarinet part to fit it on the violin. There is typically dramatic Beethovenian modulation throughout the substantial opening movement but the Florestans never loose sight of the architectural sweep of the music. In typical Hyperion style the disc is superbly recorded and accompanied by excellent booklet notes by Richard Wigmore. All of the Florestan Trio’s recordings on Hyperion have been lauded and received numerous awards. With playing of such precision, humour and integrity this comes as no surprise and this Beethoven series will long have a place as a flag bearer of chamber music quality. Altogether this is a highly enjoyable Beethoven disc and is easily recommendable.

Peter Wells

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