This set of discs has been part of my collection for about ten years and bought individually. The reviews below for these discs have been copy-pasted from the individual reviews as previously written.
vol 1 The opus 70 pair including the 'Ghost' trio
This well recorded disc made in 2001 presents a most encouraging start to the projected cycle of the Beethoven trios. The Florestan Trio have established themselves firmly at the vanguard of modern performing trios and already have a string of notable recorded triumphs to their name and this shows all the signs of continuing that sequence of winners.
These two trios were written during Beethoven's 'middle' period just after the Pastorale symphony (no. 6). They were written very quickly in just one month after a lapse of just over ten years since the first series of trios. In that time he had developed his thinking on the subject considerably and with these two new trios there is now a complete integration of the three instruments. The previously dominating role of the keyboard as in the Haydn and Mozart predecessors has now vanished.
The apparent ease of composition, bearing in mind the speed, is reflected in the relaxed nature of the works. There are, of course, interesting facets to the compositions these works such as the three movement form of the Ghost trio, not to mention its 'ghostly' slow movement after which the trio takes its name. The following trio eschews the title of minuet in the third movement although to all intents and purposes that is what it is. Nevertheless this is a further distancing from earlier models.
The Florestan's are fully aware of every detail of these works and their perfectly empathy with each other and to the music enables the performances to flow with complete ease. There is no suggestion of these being studio recordings although, of course, they are. One point worth mentioning is their suggestion that the second trio shares some constructional and key relationship features with Haydn's symphony 103, the Drumroll, and that this trio might be seen as something of a veiled tribute to Haydn, now something of an elderly statesman. This is more fully explained in the accompanying notes.
Although this review has been written as if the disc has been freshly bought, readers may be interested to know that it has been a valued part of my collection for the last ten years along with every other disc this, now ceased, trio has ever made. The current reviews being written are thus a retrospective series written as CDs are being played again.
I would therefore suggest that this disc, along with the others in the series, is likely to be an invaluable addition to any collection and very much worth while considering as a purchase.
vol. 2 The Archduke trio opus 97 etc.
This disc, recorded in 2002, juxtaposes two contrasting period of Beethoven's trio writing. The Archduke trio is a work of his maturity but the remaining two works on the disc originate from much earlier in his career. The playing on this disc is of the utmost excellence as is the recording. This has long been the default expectation of discs made by this trio and in that they have never failed. This disc simply continues that established 'tradition.'
The Archduke trio offers quite a contrast to the well respected version by Askkenazy, Perlman and Harrell on Decca. Theirs is a much more high powered version with an emphasis on drama. The projection offered is very much that of a substantial concert hall and seems to have been conceived on that scale. It is a very fine reading in that way and is also well recorded.
The Florestan trio, on the other hand, offer a less dramatic view with the emphasis on light and shade, fleetness and quicksilver detailing. The projection offered is more akin to a more intimate setting and obviously more 'chamber' in feel.
The Allegretto is believed to date from about 1790 and as such can be described as a short and early work - small but perfectly formed you might say. The variations is a more substantial composition. This, despite its late opus number, probably dates from around 1794. The variations are based on a song by Wenzel Muller and from his singspiel 'I am Kakadu the tailor. Beethoven offered his variation for publication in 1816 describing it as one of his earlier compositions. The reason for its revival was probably the revival of Muller's songspiel at about that time and this would be an easy way of capitalising on that.
This disc certainly deserves to be considered seriously by anyone interested by the program. It is also worth mentioning the the whole set of the trios is now available as a boxed set and which may be even more attractive. They are all of equal merit.
vol 3 Opus 1 numbers 1 and 2 plus trio WoO 38
This disc, very well recorded in 2002, focusses on the early trios, the opus 1 numbers 1 and 2 plus the trio WoO 38. The playing on this disc is of the utmost excellence as is the recording. This has long been the default expectation of discs made by this trio and in that they have never failed. This disc simply continues that established 'tradition.'
The Florestan trio offer a less dramatic view than some rival groups such as those featuring Ashkenazy and Perlman for example, with the emphasis on light and shade, fleetness and quicksilver detailing. There is no shortage of sheer verve but this is kept correctly within a classical period framework. The humour of these early trios is also brought out very strongly and the overall effect is one of complete enjoyment of the process of music making. This feeling of corporate and individual artistic pleasure communicates strongly to the listener and is a marked advantage when choosing a recorded set of performances. The recorded ambiance provided by Hyperion is more akin to a more intimate setting and obviously more 'chamber' in feel and suits the style of performance precisely.
This disc therefore certainly deserves to be considered seriously by anyone interested by the program. It is also worth mentioning the the whole set of the trios is now available as a boxed set and which may be even more attractive. They are all of equal merit.
vol. 4 - trios opus 1/3 and 11; Variations opus 44
This 2003 disc, very well recorded as the rest of the series, completes the series of Beethoven trios by the Florestan trio. As with all the previous discs this one offers a perfect recording with clarity, good balance and depth of sound-stage in a natural ambiance. The performances of the music maintains the very high standards of the rest of the set.
Beethoven's third trio, the first on this disc, completes his opus 3 set but also markedly moves away from the previous Haydn and Mozart model while still remaining very much a part of the Classical period. There is far more demand upon the listener insofar as the music moves away from entertainment and becomes more interactively involving of the listener. At the same time it becomes more demanding of the players. This was so apparent at the time that Haydn advised Beethoven not to publish the work. Too late as it was already published when Haydn first heard it. Contrary to Haydn's expectations the work rapidly became very popular among Beethoven's early work. The Opus 11 trio continues this compositional progression. Both quartets make considerable use of variation techniques which allowed Beethoven to more fully explore and indulge his imagination. The Variations opus 44 included on this disc are a later example of the form.
The Florestan Trio play with sublime taste and with a light touch which allows Beethoven's sense of humour to shine through. There is really little to add to this other than to reiterate the praises that have been heaped on the previous issues in this fine series - and every other disc they have also recorded. It is such a shame that the group is now disbanded but collectors can be consoled with the considerable recorded legacy they have left with not a single disc of less than excellence. This is a remarkable achievement.
I therefore suggest that potential purchasers would do well to consider both this single disc and also the boxed set as serious contenders for purchase.