The string trios of Beethoven are early works, but they already show the hand of the master. He had studied briefly under Haydn, the "father of the string quartet," with whom he did not get along. When urged to strike out on his own in this oeuvre, Beethoven was hesitant to be compared to his former mentor. He saw the form of the string trio as a means for exploration and experimentation that did not risk a direct comparison with the great legacy of Haydn and Mozart.
However, these trios are by no means apprentice pieces. They are masterpieces that compare favorably to the composer's Op. 18 string quartets. The three trios of Op. 9, published in the summer of 1798, foreshadow not only his future foray into those quartets, but into the symphonic form as well. They are dedicated to Count Johann Georg von Browne, an officer in the Imperial Russian army who was one of the composer's earliest Viennese patrons.
The team of Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Lynn Harrell give performances of these works that sparkle with incomparable virtuosity. Recorded live at the 92nd Street "Y" in Manhattan in 1989 and 1990, the players offer all one can ask for: intensity, faultless phrasing, lyricism and awesome precision. The recently re-mastered sound is crystal clear and warm, and the ambient noise from the live audience is minimal. To be honest, I have not heard the principal competitors, the recordings made by Anne-Sophie Mutter, Bruno Giuranna and Mstislav Rostropovich of the same works on this CD, or the very new offering on the BIS label of the Op. 9 with Zimmerman, Tamestit and Poltera, so I can render no opinion as to how their efforts compare. But I can't imagine a more satisfying presentation. The three protagonists here, all world renowned soloists in their own right, have played innumerable concerts together over many years and they know one another's musical capabilities in an intimate fashion that only such continual association can engender.