Sunday, February 16, 2014

Today we hear the whole of Beethoven's grand, stirring "Archduke" Trio

The Atos Trio plays the beautiful third-movement Andante cantabile of Beethoven's Archduke Trio in Berlin's Joseph-Joachim-Saal, December 2011.

by Ken

As I mentioned in last night's preview, a piece dear to my heart popped into my head yesterday, and it was extremely welcome, because I think of it as, for want of a better way of putting it, a "good new" piece. I love it end to end, but I especially love that magisterial opening given to the piano. Once upon a time, way back when, I picked up a used copy of the piano part of the complete Beethoven piano trios for $5, and was shocked to discover when I hacked out the opening bars, that hacked-up as my rendering was, it gave me the tingle I'd come to expect, or hope for, when hearing the piece, and maybe then some, because now the sound coming out of the piano was directly connected to my fingers.

Ironically, the recording that gives me perhaps the best version of that frisson is the performance in the EMI Beethoven trio cycle by Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman, and Jacqueline du Pré, which, alas, I have only on open-reel tape. That's the performance I thought I had on CD which turned out to be instead the later Ashkenazy-Perlman-Harrell EMI cycle, from which we heard the opening of the piece last night (along with the celebrated 1941 recording by the "Million Dollar Trio" of Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz, and Emanuel Feuermann).


The nickname, by the way, comes from its dedication to the Austrian Archduke Rudolph, an amateur pianist who actually studied composition with Beethoven. Once I had the idea, my first thought -- thinking of that grand, stirring opening -- was to cluster round its proudly proclaimed key of B-flat major. But as I noted in the preview, I was soon reminded that, while lots of composers used the key of B-flat major, hardly anyone, including Beethoven himself, otherwise used it this way. As I said last night, the closest match in my mind is Brahms's Second Piano Concerto, and I have to think that somewhere in his head while he was composing that gorgeous piece Beethoven's Archduke Trio was playing.

I'm not going to say anything more about the piece or the performances. The piece, I think, is pretty straightforward, its most expansive statements coming in the aforementioned grand opening Allegro moderato and the haunting third-movement Andante cantabile, filled out with a spritely second-movement Scherzo and finale. As usual the performances have been chosen to provide different sorts of contrasts.

BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio in B-flat, Op. 97 (Archduke)

i. Allegro moderato

Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio (Eugene Istomin, piano; Isaac Stern, violin; Leonard Rose, cello). Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded in Winterthur (Switzerland), Oct. 2, 1965)

Peter Frankl, piano; György Pauk, violin; Ralph Kirshbaum, cello. BBC, recorded live in London, Sept. 16, 1989


Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Jascha Heifetz, violin; Emanuel Feuermann, cello. RCA-BMG, recorded in Holllywood, Sept. 12-13, 1941

Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano; Itzhak Perlman, violin; Lynn Harrell, cello. EMI, recorded in New York, c1979

ii. Scherzo: Allegro

Eugene Istomin, piano; Alexander Schneider, violin; Pablo Casals, cello. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded in Perpignan (France), August 1951

Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano; Sándor Végh, violin; Pablo Casals, cello. Philips, recorded live in Bonn, September 1958

iii. Andante cantabile

Suk Trio (Josef Hala, piano; Josef Suk, violin; Josef Chuchro, cello). Supraphon-Denon, recorded in Prague, June 13-16, 1983

Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (Joseph Kalichstein, piano; Jaime Laredo, violin; Sharon Robinson, cello). Arabesque, recorded in Purchase (NY), Jan. 21-23, 1997

iv. Allegro moderato; Presto

Trio di Trieste (Darlo de Rosa, piano; Renato Zanettovich, violin; Libero Lana, cello). DG, recorded in Hanover (Germany), Apr. 24-26, 1960

Guarneri Trio Prague (ivan Klánský, piano; Čeněk Pavllík, violin; Marek Jerie, cello). Praga, recorded in Prague, Sept. 1-4, 1999

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