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Beethoven Piano trios Op1/2; Op 70/1 (Ghost)

Maxwell Davies Voyage to Fair Isle


Grieg Trio

Vebjorn Anvik (piano) Solve Sigerland (violin) Ellen Margarete Flesjo (‘cello)


Simax PSC1166


Piano trios are usually ‘led' either by the pianist (as with Menahem Pressler of the Beaux Arts) or, as with the Greigs, the violinist. Sigerland has a extrovertly projected, sweet tone, very different from - say- the silvery reticence of Marwood in the Florestans or Steinberg in his Mozart violin sonatas with Uchida. The partnership of equals – as Richter illuminatingly wrote of his experience recording the Beethoven Triple with Oistrakh and Rostropovich – is asymmetrical and complex. In the Grieg trio, the pianist (Anvik) is relatively retiring.


The Griegs have a number of moments of great beauty and interest – for example, already in Op 1 No 2, we hear how Beethoven used the trill as a means towards emotional inwardness. Overall, however, Op 1 No 2 is a little cool, for sure classical rather than perfunctory, but still lacking in the edge and bite we might expect from someone like the Florestans. The second and fourth movements in particular are almost routine in execution.


The first movement of the Ghost is the highlight on this disc, played with commitment, intensity and full justice given to depth and complexity. Even more than the obviously rich Largo , the Griegs demonstrate how much Beethoven was able to mine from the imaginative vein of the form. The last movement is expansive and relaxed - again classical in the sense of bringing emotional respite rather than intensification.


In between, the Voyage to Fair Isle is suitably expository, an expert sleight of hand by the Griegs combining classical execution, modern forms and fey, folk melodies. What light does the combination of Maxwell Davies and Beethoven shed on chamber music? The obvious yoke (although the notes do not mention this) between the Maxwell Davies and the Beethoven Ghost is the representation of the Scottish supernatural.


Even though, as so often, the Beethoven title is an attributed nickname, originating in Czerny's comment the slow movement reminded him of Hamlet's father, there is a real connection. In the sketchbooks, near to the themes of the ‘spooky' Largo , the words Macbeth and End appear. Beethoven probably wrote the words in connection with discussions about writing an opera of the play in conjunction with Heinrich von Collin. We may fancifully speculate of the three instruments of the trio as the three witches from the play…. To pursue the Shakespearean theme, the Grieg's cheerful, positive conclusion to Op 70 No 1 is in the same vein as the Tempest sonata, where the intensity of Shakespeare's play (the sonata's ‘apparent' meaning, according to the composer) is also burnt out into serenity by the end.


Another serendipidous connection emerged, also not referred to in the notes. The main theme of the allegro of Op 1 No 2, bears a close resemblance to Bruch's finale to the Scottish Fantasy – we know that Beethoven made a large number of Scottish folk song arrangements. Although this form of juxtaposition often gives insights that would otherwise be unthought of, I remain to be convinced that there is a fundamental benefit, marketing apart, by producing a disc trumpeting itself as “Beethoven+.”


Not a great disc, but certainly a good and enjoyable one. Fine, clear recording and attractive (suitably pale northerly) design - follow link above for samples.


Ying Chang


© Peter Grahame Woolf