Gould Piano Trio / Robert Plane

Beethoven: Piano Trios, Vol. 3

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The present release contains some of the least familiar works that Beethoven published and assigned an opus number. Two of them are not conventional piano trios, but works for clarinet, cello, and piano. No one would put these works forth as top-drawer Beethoven, but the central piece, the Variations on "Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu" for piano trio, Op. 121a, deserves to be more frequently played. Although based on an early Beethoven set of variations, it was apparently revised at least once before its publication in 1824, and in some respects it is a true unknown example of late Beethoven. He seems to have tacked on material at both the beginning and end, turning a conventional set of variations into something different: a reflection on the uses of simplicity, which was a hallmark of his last years. The variations get a massive slow introduction that would have been unheard-of in the 1790s, and the piece concludes with a complex fugue (again typical of his late style). The break between the introduction and the variations theme is humorous indeed, and Britain's Gould Piano Trio catches the oddity of this moment. It's generally a strong live performance, although listeners could find studio versions with greater pitch precision overall. The players do not try to find too much depth in the two clarinet works, examples of early Beethoven rooted in Mozart and prior to him in the serenade style of the Classical era. The Trio for clarinet, cello, and piano, Op. 38, is an arrangement by Beethoven himself of the immensely popular six-movement Septet, Op. 20, and the Trio for clarinet, cello, and piano, Op. 11, though later arranged for the usual piano trio, is an altogether mellower work than the large Op. 1 trios that announced to the world that Beethoven was something different. With decent, rather delicate live sound from Somm, this is a collection likely to fill some empty spaces in extensive Beethoven collections.

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