Beethoven Trios from the Weiss Kaplan Stumpf Trio
Beethoven: Complete Piano Trios Weiss Kaplan Stumpf Trio Yael Weiss, piano. Mark Kaplan, violin. Peter Stumpf, cello. Bridge 9505 A/C Disc One Total Time: 77:30 Disc Two Total Time: 76:20
Disc Three Total Time: 75:59
Recording: (*)***/**** Performance: ****/****
The Weiss Kaplan Stumpf Trio is made up of three award-winning performers that have been together since 2001. They are known both for their programs of contemporary music as well as energetic and engaging readings of more familiar repertoire. In this current three-disc set from Bridge, we are invited to join them on a journey in the former with the piano trios of Beethoven. Composed across fifteen years between 1795-1811, they reflect the change in his music at a time of increasing struggles with loss of hearing. They sit at the cusp of his shift into the more heroic elements of his style and the acclaim that would begin to come in the last decade of his life. Of all his piano trios the “Ghost” and “Archduke” will have the most competition on disc. Fortunately, the performances of these two familiar pieces are quite excellent highlights of the release as are those for the Opus 1 set of trios. The “Ghost” trio gets things started with the latter closing off disc two.
Perhaps the most striking element of their performances, heard from the very beginning in the opening of the “Ghost” Trio (Op. 70, no.1) is the clean articulated rhythms and gestures of the music that are matched perfectly across the texture. A sparkling quality is thus added to the rapid passage work that lifts the final bars especially of Op. 1/1. The more mysterious central movement of Op. 70/1also has some dark lower piano moments. Sometimes this blurs in the texture adding to the eerie quality. The approach heard in the first few moments of the opening work extends as well into the phrasing and lyrical gestures that are part of the style of the music. One can hear this beautifully executed in the slow movement of Op. 1/1 and the delicate opening of Op. 1/no.2 with sparkling clarity. The result is a consistent vision of how each trio contains its own expressiveness. There is a great sense of dramatic power that helps elevate the music as well. The companion Op. 70/22 is reserved for disc three. Disc one features the Kakadu Variations, Op. 121a and Beethoven’s first essay in this genre (the Eb Trio, Op. 1, no. 1). Both Op. 1, no. 2 and 3 will serve as the first work on the following discs two and three, respectively. Placing them against the later mature works provides for a chance to hear some of the new approaches Beethoven was applying in his work. Disc three also includes the Op. 44 14 Variations in Eb, in a playful and engaging reading.
The piano tends to be front and center with the strings in a sort of middle point of the sound picture. The acoustic is slightly dry which aids the faster segments but sometimes one wishes for just a bit warmer sound at times, and perhaps a bit more space. There are a couple slight moments of intonation issues, but these are part of a more spirited approach that captures the snapshot of a performance in time and lends a more personal quality to the proceedings. All of this aside, this is still an engaging set of Beethoven in performances that add perfect sense of energy and excitement. The “Archduke” trio is really a highlight here in what is a collection of fine performances. With works like this, listeners will likely have their own personal preferences for these pieces (in my case it is the Zukerman/du Pre/Barenboim set on EMI). This makes a fine survey of these works as well (if one wants the lesser WoO 38 and 39 trios, they are not here). The interconnectedness of the music and sense of interplay between Weiss, Kaplan, and Stumpf add a bit more immediacy to the music and this helps make this an oft-thrilling set. One can access the recordings through most streaming platforms to sample before picking up the CD set. The Op. 1 and “Archduke” trios as well as the Op. 44 variations are highlights of the set and great places to start in a strong addition to the catalog.