Vienna Piano Trio

Beethoven: Piano Trios, Op. 70

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There is no shortage of recordings of Beethoven's middle-period Op. 70 trios, expansive, expressive pieces that have stood at the center of the chamber music repertory ever since they were issued. This reading by the Vienna Piano Trio, a modern-instrument group unlike many on the MDG label, has several things to recommend it. For those who like Beethoven on the dry, brusque side, it may be ideal: the group takes some quick tempos, notably in the first movement of the Piano Trio in D major, and they favor direct, vibrato-free attacks. The second movement of that trio, which gave the work its nickname the "Ghost," might not have inspired the name in this rather straightforward performance, but the group is not without lyricism: as Beethoven indeed directed in the finale of the Piano Trio in E flat major, Op. 70/2, they keep the rhythmic impulse moving without slowing down for expressive purposes, and much of the music takes on a Schubertian tinge. Another attraction here is the presence of a less common work, the Variations for Piano Trio, Op. 121a, known as the "Kakadu Variations" after the popular song ("Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu," or I am the tailor Cuckoo) that provides their basis. This seems to have been a very early work that Beethoven in great good humor revised in his later years, adding a massive slow introduction to the very lightweight tune and rounding out the whole with a fugue. The dry approach misses a bit of the humor here, but competent recordings of the work remain rare. The final plus is MDG's sound, recorded in an old monastery farmhouse that has provided an ideal site for many of this small label's chamber music recordings, and those looking for the combination of a conservative approach and audiophile-quality sound will hit the jackpot here.

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