Classical Reissue Reviews

BEETHOVEN: String Trios – Erick Freidman, v./ Emanuel Vardi, viola/ Jascha Silberstein, cello – Cembal d’amour

Lovely, even astonishing, ensemble from three string masters realize the early Beethoven trios to perfection in these 1977 recordings.

Published on March 18, 2012

BEETHOVEN: String Trios – Erick Freidman, v./ Emanuel Vardi, viola/ Jascha Silberstein, cello – Cembal d’amour

BEETHOVEN: String Trio in G Major, Op. 9, No. 1; String Trio in D Major, Op. 9, No. 2; String Trio in C Minor, Op. 9, No. 3 – Erick Freidman, violin/ Emanuel Vardi, viola/ Jascha Silberstein, cello – Cembal d’amour CD 165, 71:06 [Distr. By Qualiton] **** :

I had the good fortune to meet and speak with violinist Erick Friedman (1939-2004) at the Round Top Festival in Texas, where I heard him in master class and in concert, performing a Mozart concerto with Festival Orchestra. Especially noted for his having been a protégé of Jascha Heifetz, Friedman progressed on his own considerable merits, as these 1977 inscriptions of the Beethoven Op. 9 Trios attest. Emanuel Vardi (1915-2011) and Jascha Silberstein (1934-2008) complete the ensemble, and their sparkling readings of these relatively early experiments in string writing (c. 1796-1797) comprise a wonderful tribute to their simultaneous, individual artistry and their ability to coalesce into a single means of expression.

Beethoven had written two prior string trios to his Op. 9 triad, divertimentos really; but the Op. 9 and their four-movement structure meant a more serious purpose, competing with the traditional quartet medium. Many would argue that the C Minor remains the gem of the triptych, with its uncanny alternations of C Minor and C Major. But the two earlier opera have their moments as well, such as the gracious lyricism of the Adagio, ma non tanto, e cantabile of the G Major, whose song might well refer to the equally poignant slow movement of the Op. 7 Piano Sonata. The ensuing Scherzo: Allegro captures a deft wit and transparent vibrancy quite infectious. A strumming, heated ball of energy, the last movement of the G Major, Presto, has each member in rustic competition with his fellows, a moto perpetuo culminating in a breezy melody over ostinati and a fiery coda that well defines the virtuosity of the participants.

The D Major Trio might represent an atavism insofar as its third movement Menuetto goes against Beethoven’s more contentious scherzi of the period. But the Haydn-influenced D Major Trio offers lyrical compensations that Beethoven will exploit in his later “major key” symphonies in D and B-flat Major. The opening, exuberant Allegretto lets Friedman sing an operetta aria while the lower instruments, especially Silberstein, add any number of vertical colors. The Andante quasi Allegretto proffers a dramatic song in 6/8 in chromatic steps that indicates a passionate soul. The dialogue between Friedman and Vardi at the close warrants the price of admission. If the third movement pays homage to a court dance, it seems almost accidental, given the leaps that invest both main theme and the Trio section. The elegantly concertante part-writing of the Rondo: Allegro both excites and charms our aesthetic sense, in that Beethoven, himself a violist of no mean ability, had already mastered a medium he revered in his idols Haydn and Mozart.

The C Minor Trio receives a startling transparent reading, allowing us to appreciate the suave uses of counterpoint, often in contrary motion in the instruments. Friedman’s lulling instrument becomes even more subtle in the Adagio con espressione, expanding its melodic arch to embrace the other two participants in a C Major colloquy of surpassing, symphonic, double-stopped tenderness, dramatically underlined by Silberstein’s resonant bass. Do we hear touches of Don Giovanni or Cosi fan tutte in the late pages?  The quality of lyric beauty suggests so. The impish bite of the Scherzo indulges us in whimsical riffs among all three parts. The scurrying filigree of the Finale: Presto in its moments of solemnity seem to have the key of C Minor as a mode of special intensity for this composer whose later works build upon this early pillar.

—Gary Lemco




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