Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, June 2011

The works recorded here have a complex history, which I am summarising: you will find a more complete account in the very full Cedille booklet, the contents of which are also available online. You can read these, hear extracts from the recording, and purchase downloads in mp3 or lossless also have this recording as an mp3 download—here.

The Beethoven Project Trio was formed with the express purpose of performing and recording all his works in that genre, though they do also perform music by other composers. The piano employed is a Fazioli Grand on loan from the Klavierhaus, New York, the violin a 1713 Stradivarius and the cello a 1772 Gagliano.

None of these works belong in the regular canon of Beethoven Trios. The E-flat Trio, Hess 47, is Beethoven’s own arrangement of the opening movement, Allegro con brio, of the String Trio, Op.3. Though it is an early work, Beethoven’s independence of Haydn and Mozart is apparent. The Piano Trio version was published as long ago as 1920, but this is its first recording. The performance is so apt that I wondered why we had had to wait so long to hear it.

The Trio in D is preserved in manuscript in the British Library, in a slightly incomplete form. Robert McConnell has reconstructed the missing two pages of the first movement, 33 bars in all. The work was formerly attributed to Mozart with the Köchel Anhalt catalogue number KA52a. It wouldn’t sound out of place in a Mozart programme, which I intend as praise, not disparagement. Once again the playing does it full justice.

The most substantial work here, the Op.63 Trio in E-flat, is a transcription of Beethoven’s Op.4 String Quintet. Despite some residual doubts that the composer himself made the transcription, the booklet confidently follows modern scholarship in accepting Beethoven’s authorship, attested on the title page of the 1806 Artaria edition, included in facsimile on page 17 of the Cedille booklet. To complicate the history of this work still further, it began life as a Wind Octet, an early work (1792), despite the fact that it was published as Op.103.

For all that these works have such a complex history, they are well worth hearing and purchasing by anyone who already has some of the regular repertoire. Those not acquainted with the trios should start with No.7, the ‘Archduke’ and No.5, the ‘Ghost’ Trio.

The performances by the Beethoven Project Trio may not be quite in the same outstanding category as the Chung Trio, but the undemonstrative playing presents the music in a very good light and the recording does the performances justice: it has real presence without being in any way obtrusive. This is Beethoven in generally affable mood, so neither the performances nor the recording need to be as up-front as for the late quartets.

Lovers of Beethoven’s chamber music who have already made the acquaintance of his ‘regular’ Piano Trios should enjoy hearing this recording of more out of the way repertoire. It should cater for more than just a niche market: indeed, I understand that Cedille’s enterprise has already been rewarded—it has already been selling well in the USA. If in doubt, subscribers to the Naxos Music Library can try it out there first.

Laurence Vittes
Gramophone, December 2010

Beethoven rescored, reconstructed and rediscovered in a trio of trios

The gem on this release is the world premiere recording of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D major. Unlike the other two works, which are either arrangements or reworkings of existing material, Kinsky/Halm Anh3 is an untouched work (lacking just a few pages), dated 1799 (and possibly written earlier) and previously thought by some to be by Mozart. Given the full musicological treatment by Robert McConnell, it emerges as the epitome of Beethoven the young galant.

The music is basically a piano solo with obbligato instruments, imbued with a sense, in some of the cadential resolutions, that the composer is daydreaming while writing this music, perhaps hearing the call of distant harmonic frontiers while having for the first time a sense of his own immortality. The first-movement Allegro in particular has attractive energy, with a second subject that echoes both the heroic tone and characteristic “snap” of the Scottish folksongs that Beethoven made money arranging and which link him to Haydn, who did much of the same, in sharp contrast to Mozart who never tapped into that vein. The Hess47 and Op 63 reworkings (of the String Trio, Op 3, and the woodwind Octet, Op 63, respectively) tread on less interesting ground, despite their noble parentage. Both were so perfectly written in their original instrumentation that even Beethoven was at a loss at how to bring them alive as conventional piano trios. But the 13 minutes of Beethoven represented by Kinsky/Halm Anh3 are more than enough reason to buy this disc.

The Beethoven Project Trio play with attractive laid-back lyricism which let them score when a big tune comes along, especially when cellist Wendy Warner is called on to do the honours. Good sound, hardening a little at times, and absorbing, beautifully illustrated liner-notes complete the package. The formidable-sounding International Beethoven Project is a Chicago-based educational initiative intended to culminate in the quarter-millenium of Beethoven’s birth in 2020.

Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, November 2010

Hard-core Beethoven fans, and we are legion, will jump at this disc, which promises the world premiere recording of Beethoven’s Trio in E flat, Hess 47. The thrill lessens when you learn that was an arrangement Beethoven made from his String Trio Op. 3. There follows a trio in D, Kinsky/Halm Anhang 3, problematic because two pages of the manuscript were missing. Also, its authenticity was in doubt, partly because some of the writing was in the handwriting of Beethoven’s brother. Finally comes the American premiere of the Piano Trio in E flat, Op. 63, whose authenticity was also long in doubt. So there you are—three convoluted stories, three cataloging systems, and all of it complicated further by the CD’s convoluted liner notes. The good news is this is fine music, graceful and soothing in that peculiar way only Beethoven can be soothing, when he feels like it. (No doubts in my mind as to the authenticity of any of this music.) The Beethoven Project Trio presents the music with calm, straightforward grace.

Alan Swanson
Fanfare, November 2010

I have recently acquired the first of what I gather will be a new “Beethoven Project.” Here are three trios, two completely unknown and one, op. 63, never before heard in the United States, they claim. They are well played by the Beethoven Project Trio, which I hope will go on to record more.

Bart Verhaeghe
Fanfare, November 2010

The Beethoven Project Trio on Cedille—Hearing this disc was a very pleasant surprise. Not only does it feature new Beethoven piano trio scores (although most of it is closely related to already existing scores such as the Quintet, op. 4), the recording quality is really outstanding. Clear, bright, and focused sound brings out this well thought-out and brilliantly played performance. The accompanying booklet offers interesting insight into the Beethoven Project and is worked out with some nice recording shoots. A real gem.

Edith Eisler
Strings Magazine, October 2010

…there is much to recommend about these works. The record’s most convincing piece is Hess 47. The writing is democratic and idiomatic to the instruments, and the string trio’s lyricism and charm are fully intact. It is a pity that Beethoven transcribed only one of its six movements.

The performances by these three gifted string players is first rate: technically brilliant, tonally beautiful, and musically elegant. Conveying a sense of enjoyment and mutual support, the players make a strong case for this unknown music.

Robert Anderson
Music & Vision, September 2010

‘…the pleasure of unfamiliar music and fine performances.’

The two E flat trios are arrangements of string works by Beethoven. Whether these versions of the Op 3 String Trio (first movement only), and Op 4 String Quintet are by the great man himself remains debatable. Certainly they were published during the composer’s lifetime, and there is nothing improbable in an ascription to Beethoven when we remember that he agreed to turn even the violin concerto into a work for piano and orchestra. If there were some extra Groschen on offer, Beethoven was ready to oblige.

The D major Trio has a far more convoluted history. The manuscript, lacking two pages in the first movement (hence essential editorial work by Robert McConnell), is lodged in the British Library. In 1910 it was ascribed to Mozart, and featured in the appendix of Köchel’s catalogue. Sixteen years later it was published in Paris as by Beethoven. Perhaps finally, it was suggested by Deutsch in 1945 as a work by the Bohemian Leopold Kozeluch, who was almost appointed Mozart’s successor in Salzburg. So who knows?

More important is that the three works are well worth an airing, whatever the authorship. The Beethoven Project Trio of George Lepauw, Sang Mee Lee and Wendy Warner have every intention to record all the Beethoven trios, an admirable scheme, to which a contribution of 100,000 dollars would entitle the donor to be numbered among the ‘Immortal Beloved’. My personal mite is a favourable review, stimulated by the pleasure of unfamiliar music and fine performances. The D major Rondo has all the kittenish playfulness of the young Beethoven.

The string arrangements go splendidly. In both cases I can testify that my special attachment to the cello part has been distracted by no alterations; and Wendy Warner plays them with an assurance I can no longer command. It is a pity that only the first movement (there were originally six) survives of the Op 3 arrangement.

The original title-page of the quintet in its new guise carries the letters ‘C P S C M’, to be interpreted as ‘With the Authority of his Sacred Imperial Majesty’. Beethoven could have required no more, and the Rondo expresses due satisfaction.

David W Moore
American Record Guide, September 2010

As you may imagine, there are no ghosts or archdukes among these discoveries, though they are unusual and interesting pieces in their way. The first is a one-movement piece in E flat, a transcription by the composer of the first movement of his 1794 String Trio, Opus 3. The notes by James F Green tell us that it was published from the autograph score in 1920, but that it was never played in public until March of last year. He attributes this neglect to “the human capacity for oversight”. I am inclined to think that it is because the arrangement is only of the first movement of a six-movement work and we wonder why Beethoven didn’t transcribe the whole piece. I guess the world was waiting for him to come back and finish the job. It seems to have been arranged in 1800 or later and, though the progression of events is basically the same as the string trio, he adds some little elaborations and it sounds quite different with a piano part. It is a pleasant idea.

The next Trio is in D and sports a Koechel number—Anhang 52a—because for a while it was thought to be by Mozart. It sounds rather blustery and intense for that composer, and humorously folksy in the finale. There are only two movements, dated 1799, and I wouldn’t have guessed it was Beethoven either. The manuscript is in the hand of Beethoven’s brother Kaspar Karl. That has both helped and hindered the matter. Also, it is missing 33 bars in the middle of the first movement that have been reconstructed here by Robert McConnell. He explains what he did and I find it convincing. At any rate, it is a curious and entertaining piece.

The largest and most elaborate trio is a transcription of what began as a Wind Octet in 1792, was transcribed into the String Quintet, Opus 4 in 1795 and ended up as a trio in 1806 with the opus number 63. This one is a four-movement monster lasting nearly 35 minutes, and it is most interesting to compare it with its predecessors. The original octet was altered in many ways when Beethoven reworked it as a string quintet, changing the form and material in many instances and generally maturing it. Turning it into a piano trio gives him another new texture to deal with, and he gives much of the quintet’s first violin part to the piano, putting that instrument in a prominent position. Musically he stays close to the notes of the quintet, but the effect is both more virtuosic and more relaxed because of his use of the piano. It is a fascinating and rich piece that is well worth hearing.

All this music is interesting and the players do it with fine style. There are no fewer than four pages listing donors and supporters of the International Beethoven Project that is responsible for making this record. The players are George Lepauw, piano, Sang Mee Lee, violin, and Wendy Warner, cello. They are fine tasteful musicians that play beautifully together. Lepauw opens the notes with a detailed history of how the group got together for this project. Then McConnell gives us the history of the music in a clear and concise way. This is a recording well worth investigating. They want to go on recording the Beethoven trios and I, for one, would be happy to hear them.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group