Beethoven's trios for violin, viola, and cello remain among his least-played works. They seem to point back to the occasional chamber music of the Classical period, and if they're not given the proper attention, that's exactly what they do. But Beethoven himself thought enough even of the very early String Trio in E flat major, Op. 3 (1794), to supervise a keyboard arrangement of the work in the 1810s, and the Op. 9 set heard here, composed in 1798, is almost as ambitious as the group of Op. 18 string quartets that followed it by about a year, and for which it can be seen as a kind of study. The hard, weighty performances by the Trio Zimmermann command attention for these works. Hear the way it sculpts out the jagged opening melodic material of the climactic String Trio in C minor, Op. 9/3, or lay into the quasi-orchestral finale of the first trio of the set. There's a good deal of motivic work here that forecasts the density of Beethoven's mature chamber music language.
Beethoven was the last great composer to write string trios, and his are the finest works of their type. Mozart hardly touched this particular combination, and Haydn wrote quite few very early works which are now completely unknown. In any case, Haydn used two violins and a cello, whereas with Beethoven the standard combination became violin, viola, and cello. These are all early works, expert examples of all that Beethoven learned from Haydn and Mozart in preparation for the writing of his first great string quartets. But far from being mere composition exercises, these are highly rewarding works on their own, and these outstanding performances make the best possible case for their claim to be ranked among Beethoven's chamber music masterpieces.
The Trio Zimmermann’s previous release of Beethoven’s Trios received excellent reviews and won them the BBC Music Magazine’s Chamber Award in 2013. This next instalment shows us the ‘lighter’ side of Beethoven’s chamber works. The Trio in E flat major and Serenade in D major consist of sequences of six and eight movements respectively, with minuets and marches reminding us of courtly music from an earlier period. However, they are far from ‘old-fashioned’. The adventurous spirit of the young Beethoven is plain to hear, in the exceptionally creative use of textures, thematic development and formal innovation. In this music Beethoven gives each instrument an equal importance and a highly individual treatment. A first-class chamber ensemble is required to meet these demands and this is exactly what the Trio Zimmermann offer, comprised of three exceptional soloists.
This is the kind of package which represents the best of the Philips Classics Duo series. Slightly older recordings, but in beautiful, clear, warm analogue sound; artists of the old school and the first rank; a compilation of potentially neglected music made available absurdly cheaply in attractive packaging with high production values and intelligent notes; what's not to like?
Opus 18 needs little introduction as Beethoven’s supremely confident first step in total mastery of the Classical String Quartet. From the opening bars of Quartet No. 1 which bristle with curiosity and possibility to the wit and humour of Quartet No. 2 and the supressed energy and teasing harmonic uncertainty of Quartet No. 3, Opus 18 represents Beethoven’s only quartet contribution during his ‘first period’ and provides the listener with a tantalising glimpse of the extraordinary music that was to follow. The Eybler Quartet came together in 2004 to explore the works of the first century-and-a-half ofthe string quartet and plays on instruments appropriate to the period of the music it performs. The Toronto-based ensemble’s live performances have consistently garnered praise as 'glowing and committed', 'spirited' and 'lively and energizing'. The Eybler Quartet harnesses a unique combination of talents and skills: razor-sharp ensemble skills, technical prowess.
Never one to relegate particular instruments to merely supporting roles, Hindemith composed his String Trio No. 1 (1924) with an eye (and ear) toward complete equality among the parts. The Trio is written in an almost constantly contrapuntal texture that makes much use of canon and fugue techniques; virtually the only instances where a homophonic texture is evident are those that mark important structural divisions of the movements. Though much of the music has an atonal feel, Hindemith provides a sense of direction by establishing tonal centers as points of momentary resolution. Typical of Hindemith's music of the early 1920s, the Trio is marked by a bracing, energetic spirit. The String Trio No. 2 strongly contrasts with its predecessor, the String Trio No. 1 (1924), which is marked by a strong feeling of atonality. When Hindemith wrote the present work nearly a decade later, his style had evolved somewhat. The Trio No. 2 is built on standard Classical forms but incorporates Hindemith's personal sense of tonality, in which any note or chord may be related to a given tonal center; the music has a refreshing, non-Romantic sound.