Beethoven String Trios
Here is the latest instalment of Supraphon’s issue of classic concerts given in Prague in the 1950s and ’60s. This one dates from June 2, 1960, at the Prague Spring International Music Festival. And what a line-up: three supreme Soviet artists, for whom Czechoslovakia represented a taste of freedom while the West remained out of bounds. And there’s freedom aplenty in these vigorous, highly charged performances: just sample the concluding Presto of Op 9 No 1 or the opening movement of the E flat major Trio, Op 3. These are strong-jawed readings with a great sense of purpose and, even when some of the details are a bit shaky (and tuning and ensemble less than pristine), they are never less than compelling.
In the opening movement of the C minor Trio, Op 9 No 3, the players dig into the cragginess of Beethoven’s writing. Yes, the Leopold Trio offer a cleaner, more refined approach that’s easier to live with, but this gets to the heart of the matter. Another asset to this set is the violinist himself, Leonid Kogan, whose tone is searing in its intensity.
What is less easy to live with is the rubato, particularly in the slower movements (the Adagio of Op 9 No 1 being a case in point). Here, the Leopold Trio are all the more effective for letting the music speak for itself. However, if it’s Russian temperament that you want, it’s worth seeking out the readings from Oleg Kagan, Yuri Bashmet and Natalia Gutman on Live Classics, over-reverberant acoustic notwithstanding. But this new release captures a compelling moment in history: it must have been some evening!