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Chamber Music Media Review Print

The Beethoven Project Trio

July 11, 2010 - Williamsburg, MA:

Beethoven: Piano Trio in E Flat, Hess 47, Piano Trio in D, Kinsky/Hahn Anhang 3, & Piano Trio in E Flat, Op. 63: The Beethoven Project Trio (George Lepauw, piano (Fazioli F278), Sang Mee Lee, violin (Cooper-Hakkert Stradivarius, 1713), & Wendy Warner, cello (Giuseppe Gagliano, 1772)). Çedille 90000 118, ©2010, 59:57, $16.00. Çedille Records.

Where to begin to describe and evaluate this astonishing CD? Who would believe that in 2010 we are having a world première recording of 200+-year-old works by Beethoven? But this is indeed the case for two of these items. And who would think that a late-20th/21st-century concert grand piano would sound so right for them and blend so well with such splendid 18th-century string instruments? This one does!

The three works are from early in Beethoven's career and are Classical, not Romantic. in style, demonstrating his inheritance from Haydn and Mozart. Indeed the second, dated 1799, was long attributed to Mozart and even has a Köchel number, Anhang 52a. It is an original two-movement work, with two pages missing from the autograph manuscript; their content was reconstituted by Robert McConnell, whose procedure is detailed in the booklet notes. The first work, datable only to "before 1800," is an arrangement of his 1794 string trio, Op. 3, but only the first movement was completed; it is not known why Beethoven never finished it. The third is a piano trio arrangement of the 1795 Op. 4 String Quintet, itself an arrangement of the earlier Op. 103 Wind Octet, published posthumously in 1830. In spite of the fact that this work was published by Artaria in 1806, many scholars have questioned its authenticity, which now seems to be firmly established.

The music is generally quite energetic. On the entire CD, there is only one slow movement — but a lovely one it is— unless you consider the Menuetto tempo slow, in which case two of the seven qualify. There are several nice melodies, some of which bear a certain familial resemblance to each other. It is all played in a very spirited manner, with marvelous ensemble, by the musicians. Regular readers will know of my preference for early and especially pre- and early Romantic piano works being played on early pianos because of their distinct differences between the upper, middle, and lower registers that modern pianos, especially Steinways, obliterate in their quest for uniformity and power. Hence my initial apprehension about the Fazioli, but I found it quite suitable for these works. While it doesn't have as great a differentiation among the registers as early pianos do, it has more than the standard Steinway, and its pleasing warm resonance, characteristic clarity, and sustained ring more closely resemble the crispness and slow decay of early instruments than most modern pianos.

This ensemble is a new one, formed and organized by Chicago-based French-born pianist Lepauw specifically to present the world première of the first work and the US premières of the other two. Both Lee and Warner were born and are based in Chicago, where said première performance took place on 1 March 2009. The recording, produced by Max Wilcox, renowned for his work on Artur Rubenstein's RCA Victor recordings, was made in NYC at the American Academy of Arts and Letters during the following summer. A subsequent performance, the NYC premières of the works, was given in Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall on 18 May 2010. The Trio will prolong its existence with an expanded mission "to bring a new vitality to the performance of Beethoven's trios, to shed new light on the piano trio as a musical form by commissioning new works, and to excite and educate audiences in concert halls, schools, and places where great music is not always heard." We wish it much success and find this CD a truly auspicious beginning.

The 32-page booklet opens, after the credits on the inside of the front cover and the track listings and timings on the facing page 3, with a lengthy and informative note by Lepauw entitled "How I Got Involved." This is followed by "The Trios," which gives details about the works and the manuscripts, seemingly also by Lepauw with acknowledged contributions by James F. Green. Next come bios of the ensemble and each of its members. The final six pages describe the International Beethoven Project, list its supporters (with a note from the descendants of two of Beethoven's patrons, Prince and Princess Piotr Galitzine), and lastly provide a way members of the public can also become supporters. There are numerous photos of the ensemble and the associated events, inside as well as on the outside of both covers, including artists renderings, informal, rehearsal, and recording sessions, reproductions of the title page of the Artaria edition of Op. 63, of a painting of Beethoven at age 30 and of a 1902 sculpture by Antoine Bourdelle in a private collection. It is Çedille's customary fine production.