Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Trios: in E?,
Kinsky/Halm Anhang 3;
Sang Mee Lee (vn); Wendy Warner (vc); George Lepauw (pn)
CEDILLE 90000118 (59: 57)
It might seem improbable that a recording of Beethoven piano trios could have the adjective “new” applied to each of the included works, but this is precisely the case with this new disc. As might be
expected, there are caveats (and even some potential controversies) to be applied here. Even after these are sorted through, it remains a very important recording, not only because it will fill in some gaps for Beethoven aficionados, but also because the project is greatly enhanced by vibrant, committed realizations.
Pianist George Lepauw, violinist Sang Mee Lee, and cellist Wendy Warner (by far the best known of the three) are the Chicago musicians recruited for the enterprise, and their synergy is impressive enough to generate hope that this won’t be a mere one-off effort for the threesome. The readings are tight, varied in color and dynamics, technically pristine (yet with plenty of brawn when needed), and stylistically cohesive.
After hearing the single-movement Trio in E?-Major, Hess 47, you may be forgiven for thinking you’ve heard it before. It is Beethoven’s own arrangement of the first movement of the op. 3 String Trio, apparently the only movement of the arrangement he completed. It was never published, except for a score (without individual parts) in a 1920 scholarly journal. The trio claims not only that this is the first recording (no doubt true), but that its performance in Chicago in 2009 was the world premiere. Some will be skeptical of the certainty of these claims, although their research in the matter seems thorough. I’ll leave further sleuthing to musicologists, and simply report that the trio’s performance is splendid. The movement itself is nearly first-drawer Beethoven, and deserves a permanent place in the repertoire, even in its torso form.
The novelty of the D-Major Trio, Kinsky/Halm Anhang 3 (originally a piano trio), is of a very different sort. It too survives incomplete, although the mere two movements may have been the composer’s design from the beginning. What was definitely incomplete in the manuscripts in the British Library are two missing pages, passages that were stitched in by Robert McConnell, with convincing justification and a seamless insertion that would fool the keenest listener. It is hard to believe that generations thought this was a Mozart work. Late Haydn perhaps, but even this seems a stretch.
The controversy is more acute in the op. 63 Trio, which many scholars over the ages believed to be a forgery, though lately the tide has shifted in its favor. Again, this is not a new creation, but an arrangement of his op. 4 String Quintet of 1795. To further convolute matters, the first version of the work (for wind octet) dates back to 1792. Like Hess 47, this won’t be new music for the observant listener, just familiar music in new garb. No matter—they deserve their time in the sun, and it is a rare treat for collectors to find their first exposure to novelties in such capable hands.
The recording is accomplished with care and skill. The highly regarded engineer Max Wilcox has chosen to favor the strings over the piano, at least in comparison to most other trio discs. This may well be an accurate reproduction of the trio’s chosen balance for live concerts. If so, kudos to Wilcox for avoiding the temptation to tinker with the artists’ decisions. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Michael Cameron
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