Beethoven: Piano Trios (CD review)

Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Hess 47; Piano Trio in D Major, Kinsky/Halm Anhang3; Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Opus 63. The Beethoven Project Trio.  Cedille CDR 90000 118.

This Cedille disc is for Beethoven fans who want to hear everything the man might ever have written, for audiophiles who want to hear the best in sound reproduction, and for music lovers who simply want to hear some lovely tunes. In any case, the listener can't lose.

The Beethoven Project Trio are a Chicago-based ensemble formed in 2008 and comprised of George Lepauw, piano, Sang Mee Lee, violin, and Wendy Warner, cello. Their goal is to explore Beethoven's trios within the context of all the trio works that have come after them. However, they do not confine themselves entirely to Beethoven and have branched out into Brahms, Mozart, and Schubert. For the present historic recording, Mr. Lepauw plays a Fazioli concert grand, model F278; Ms. Lee plays a 1713 Cooper-Hakkert Stradivarius; and Ms. Warner plays a 1772 Giuseppe Gagliano, all on generous loan.

In the program, we get three Beethoven trios, all of them unique in their own way. Things begin with the Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in E-Flat Major, Hess 47, "an original arrangement by Beethoven himself, from his String Trio Opus 3," 1794. It is a single movement lasting about twelve minutes, lost and forgotten for quite a while and here receiving its world-première recording. It did not get a printing until 1920, and there is as yet no performance edition available (although the International Beethoven Project is preparing one for publication before the end of 2010). At any rate, the little work is brisk and sprightly and thoroughly delightful, at least in the hands of the Beethoven Project Trio, who play it as though they had been performing it all their lives.

Next comes the Trio for Piano, Violin and Violoncello in D Major, Kinksy/Halm Anhang 3, 1799. It is in two movements, an Allegro and a Rondo, of a little over six minutes each. The work seems a bit more demanding than Hess 47, and the Trio play it with great skill. But in actuality, two pages of the score were missing, reconstructed here by Robert McConnell and recorded in its present overhauled state for the first time. For a time scholars thought that Mozart might have written the piece, and maybe he did, but most authorities today attribute it to Beethoven. Its breezy, infectious Rondo is absolutely charming.

Finally, we have the Trio for Piano, Violin and Violoncello in E-Flat Major, Opus 63, from 1806, apparently a transcription by Beethoven from his own String Quintet Opus 4 of 1795, itself an arrangement of his earlier Wind Octet. Again, there has been some controversy over the years about whether the composer had anything at all to do with it. Present-day scholars, though, generally accept that Beethoven transcribed it himself, and the Beethoven Project Trio gave it its American première performance on March 1, 2009.

The Trio in E-Flat Major is in four movements and lasts a total of about thirty-four minutes. As in the other works, the Beethoven Project Trio are light and bright and deliver a glowing performance, with the Andante in particular lilting and graceful.

The Cedille audio engineers miked the Trio's three instruments fairly close-up, yet they are not in-your-face close. Recorded in 2009 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, the sound is always warm and smooth while still displaying plenty of detail and air. What's more, the acoustic offers a radiant ambient glow that is most realistic and appealing.



  1. John--

    You couldn't be more accurate!

    As someone who grew up with a famous Uncle (Fred Silver), the first Richard Rogers award recipient, part of a piano duo De Maio & Silver, musical composer, vocal coach, author of "Auditioning for The Musical Theatre", etc., I can honestly say I am passionate about music.

    Have you heard that the Trio's debut CD is #24 on the Billboard Charts in its first week out? I hope music lovers and anyone interested in historical premieres will go out and purchase this masterful CD.


  2. Wonderful of sensibility, musicality, the three musicians are separately excellent and also give us a magic impression to be ONE !
    Talent and professionalism, enthousiasm and powerful, they plau with their soul ans Beethoven's soul !
    Magnificent CD


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa