BEETHOVEN Complete Piano Trios
The Oliver Schnyder Trio sprint through the opening movement of Beethoven’s Op 1 No 1, outpacing both the Florestan Trio and the Trio Wanderer – no small feat – and they manage this with impressive poise. Rhythms are tightly sprung and textures are crisp and clear. Whether such velocity is warranted here is debatable, given that Beethoven’s tempo marking is Allegro, not Allegro molto, in ‘common time’ with four beats per bar. The Florestan and Wanderer’s performances are nearly as fleet yet maintain this metrical integrity – moving in a four-legged gallop, perhaps – while the Schnyder Trio’s leaps suggest ‘cut time’, or two beats per bar.
The Schnyder, Florestan and Wanderer take nearly identical tempos in that same trio’s Presto finale, all to different effect. The Wanderer manage to sound cool and relaxed even as they scurry, the Florestan employ rhythmic freedom that gives a feeling of witty spontaneity and the Schnyder clutch the reins and drive the music hard. This rhythmic doggedness – a potent mixture of propulsion and rigidity – is a prominent feature of the Schnyder’s interpretative style here. The fast, repeated notes that form the melodic tag of the Second Trio’s finale, for example, fire like volleys from a machine gun. It’s an exhilarating effect, if somewhat lacking in roguish humour. Much the same can be said for the outer movements of Op 11, where the playful syncopations and sforzandos are hit too hard and with insufficient variety of character. Happily, the musicians make the most of the Adagio’s sweet lyricism, shaping the long phrases of the central minor-key section into sweeping waves.
The Ghost is more problematic. In the opening movement, the Schnyder seize upon the music’s manic element, allowing its gentler emotions to be subsumed. Ultimately, the lack of contrast robs the music of its power, and by the end one feels bullied rather than elated. The spectral slow movement is oddly lacking in tension. True, the Schnyder’s tempo is more leisurely than either the Florestan or Wanderer, but Barenboim, Zukerman and du Pré are slower still yet manage to give one gooseflesh.
The Archduke doesn’t fare much better. There’s an endearing ebullience in the opening Allegro moderato, even if the sforzandos clearly meant as expressive inflections of that first, glorious tune come across instead as distracting tics. The Scherzo is pushed so hard it loses any sense of levity and the long line of the sublime Andante gets tangled in fussy knots of detail.
The second trio of Op 70 is by far the Schnyder’s most satisfying performance. Indeed, they sound almost like a different ensemble here. The slow introduction to the first movement exudes patient expectation and the transition to the main Allegro is deftly handled. Warmth and charm abound in the two central movements – such deliciously pointed rhythms in the first Allegretto and tender fragility in the second. Note, too, in the Trio sections of the latter, how the strings’ minimal vibrato has a lovely, viol-like quality.
In terms of sound alone, the Schnyder are superb. Oliver Schnyder is a fastidiously articulate pianist (like the Florestan’s Susan Tomes) whose scales and runs are strung like perfectly matched pearls. Violinist Andreas Janke and cellist Benjamin Nyffenegger – both principals of the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra – play with a rich, finely focused tone that blends seamlessly, and their intonation is flawless. If the Schnyder had played all these works with the same ease and attentive affection they bestow on Op 70 No 2, this might have rivalled the Florestan and Wanderer’s sets. Let’s hope there’s a remake in the future.