Van Baerle Trio

Ludwig van Beethoven: Complete Piano Trios, Vol. 4

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The Van Baerle Trio's Beethoven cycle has been rightly praised, both in its general approach and in its particulars. All of the albums feature a piano by builder Chris Maene, a modern instrument, but a small one that borrows design elements from fortepianos of Beethoven's time. The result is about as far as can be imagined from the booming Rostropovich-Gilels-Kogan Beethoven trios of the golden age, but, as George Clinton might have observed, free your mind, and your ears will follow. The Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 97 ("Archduke") is delicate and joyous, with flexible tempos in the first movement kicking off an interpretation that conceives of the work as intimate. That reading is strengthened by the presence here of the Allegretto for piano trio, WoO 39, a student piece written for the young pianist Maximilane Brentano, daughter of the possible "Immortal Beloved," Antonie Brentano (and, a few writers have suggested, perhaps Beethoven's daughter as well); the work, as played here, has affinities with the "Archduke" Trio. Other attractions include the early Piano Trio in E flat major, WoO 38, begun around 1790 and a fine essay in the Haydn style, and the Variations on "Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu" for piano trio, Op. 121a, a fascinating and rarely-played little piece that Beethoven began early in his career and returned to several times, including in his last years. Some of the variations have ideas that are original even within that context, and the lightness of the work fits this particular ensemble perfectly. With Challenge Classics contributing excellent, close-up but quiet sound from an MCO 1 Radio Studio in Hilversum, this is a standout Beethoven trio release.

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