"The second of Beethoven’s Op 70 pair is rather the poor relation among the numbered piano trios, its radiance effaced by the darkness of the Ghost, with which it shares its opus number, and the magnificence of its successor, the Archduke. The lack of a handy nickname can’t have helped it either. It’s often coupled on disc with one of those other trios; and if this serves to cast Op 70 No 2 further into their shadow, it’s not for any want of charm or charisma, or any inferiority in its melodic invention and motivic construction.
The period-instrument powerhouse of Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov recorded it alongside the Archduke a few years ago, emphasising the tonal differences between the three instruments and highlighting the frictions within the dialogue. The Beethoven Trio Bonn play modern instruments and their concern is, accordingly, more orientated towards blend and conversational clarity. In this they are aided by a recording that is clean without being clinical, placing them within a realistic atmosphere (the Kammermusiksaal of Deutschlandfunk in Cologne) that allows each instrument’s tone to bloom over a wide range of dynamics – and they are observant of Beethoven’s markings to a high degree. They are as responsive to the ruffled tranquillity of the two central Allegrettos – neither is really a ‘slow’ movement – as to the eloquent exchanges of the opening Allegro or the exhilarating ride of the finale.
Is it an added draw that their coupling is not one of those great trio warhorses but a transcription of the Second Symphony? It’s all too easy to sniff at the loss of colour or variety or whatever when music conceived for a 19th-century orchestra is distilled down to only three instruments but that’s to miss the point: Beethoven himself made the reduction to boost sales of his music to a burgeoning middle-class audience, and this is the form in which many Viennese music lovers would have encountered the work, even if they would have to have been uncommonly proficient to tackle it themselves. Taken on its own terms it’s a remarkable thing, the three instruments taking turns as massed string section, spotlit woodwind soloist, clamouring horn or minatory trumpet.
The irresistible dynamism of the work comes through loud and clear and it is performed here as finely as could be desired.We are in danger of being bludgeoned by Beethoven during this anniversary year, making it all too easy to close our ears or to listen without hearing. Viewing music as familiar as the Second Symphony through the prism of an unfamiliar instrumentation illuminates its many facets in a way we might not previously have considered – and that can only be a good thing."