Beethoven: String Trios Op. 9 - Trio Zimmermann

Beethoven: String Trios Op. 9 - Trio Zimmermann


Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber

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

Trio Zimmermann

For their second release on BIS the Trio Zimmermann has chosen to record Beethoven’s String Trios Op.9 – a set of three that the composer himself upon their completion described as ‘la meilleure de mes oeuvres’ – the finest of his works. He composed them in 1796-98, after two earlier contributions to the genre which both clearly followed in the footsteps of Mozart’s great Divertimento K563. With their concentrated sonority, intense drama and striking formal disposition, the Op.9 trios mark the highlight as well as the end of Beethoven’s production for string trio, before he went on to compose quartets instead.

But they cannot be regarded as merely a preparation for taking on that prestigious genre; to quote the composer’s biographers in Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, ‘none of the earlier works can compare with these trios in terms of beauty and novelty of invention, tasteful execution, treatment of the instruments and so on; overall, they even surpass the quartets that appeared shortly afterwards.’

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Reviews (2)

Review by Mark Novak - December 22, 2011

The Opus 9 string trios of Beethoven are the launching pad for his extraordinary run at the string quartet medium which began with the set of 6 quartets, Opus 18. In many ways, these trios share the virtues of the Op.18 quartets written 2 years later. The skilful interplay between the voices, the melodic content and the dynamic writing all foretell a unique chamber music voice. The final trio, in C minor, is a marvel in and of itself.

The Trio Zimmermann plays these works for all they are worth. These are dynamic and romantic readings exhibiting superb ensemble work from the players. I’ve heard none better. No bowing to historical practices here, thankfully. Just out-and-out robust string playing from three superb musicians. The excellence of this set makes one wish that this group would add a second violin and have a go at the quartets.

The recordings were made in two different venues: Nos. 1 & 3 were recorded at Nybrokajen 11 (the former Academy of music) in Stockholm in the summer of 2010 while No.2 was done at the Meistersaal am Potsdamer Platz in Berlin in August, 2011. Both were engineered by Hans Kipfer. The two venues do have a different sonic signature with the Stockholm location being slightly brighter sounding with a bit more separation between the instruments while the Berlin hall presents a more blended sound. Furthermore, it sounds to me like No.2 was recorded at a higher resolution than the other two works because the violin tonality is that much more natural sounding, especially in the high registers. This is not to say that the Stockholm recordings are inferior in any way – just that the Berlin sound is a tad bit more relaxing to listen to without losing any of the energy of the performance. In any case, the recordings possess and ideal blend of direct and reverberant sound and are a joy to hear. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2011 Mark Novak and


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Review by John Miller - February 22, 2012

Beethoven's interest in the medium of the string trio dates to the early years following his arrival in Vienna. Both Haydn and Mozart had written string trios, and Beethoven's earliest efforts, the Trio in E flat major, Op 3 (mid or late 1795) and the Serenade in D major, Op 8, were clearly experimental, echoing Mozart's trios. He must have been attracted to the ideal dynamic balance between just three stringed instruments, however, and set about writing a final group of three string trios between 1796 and 1798, in parallel with the Op.10 piano sonatas and just after the First Symphony.

Beethoven was very pleased with his trios, declaring them to be the very best of him, and certainly their clarity of structure, style of humour and lyrical expressiveness are part of Beethoven's unique voice. His writing for the trio gives equal exposure to the three players, and this is in line with his Cello Sonatas, which finally emancipated the cello from its rather dull continuo role with which it was invested since the Baroque. Rather than continue his experiments with the String Trio, however, he dropped the format permanently and immediately went on to sketch the Op. 18 String Quartets.

The Op. 9 trios culminate with Op. 9 No. 3 in the key of C minor, a tonality which had great significance for Beethoven, invariably bringing out his most potent 'sturm and drang' emotions. It is tightly-wound throughout and brimming with nervous energy. The first movement is troubled and agitated, even the slow movement moves from a hesitant opening to impassioned reflection. Its scherzo is explosive and the finale swept with wry and often loudly bellicose humour, but it manages to end quietly and sweetly in its last few notes.

Trio Zimmerman's set of the three Op. 9 trios are distinguished by imaginative phrasing, rhythmic incisiveness and emotional potency. They are well-aware of the Enlightenment view of the string trio as a rhetorical vehicle, making musical conversations aimed at connoisseurs, and the Zimmerman's eloquent exchanges of themes and phrases are immaculately timed for maximum effect. The Trio is also au fait with Beethoven's unpredictable sense of humour, willing to grasp unflinchingly the nettle of his spikiest writing and to cope forcefully with his most abrasive writing. Wonderful, genuinely soft playing is another of their attributes, as well as great tonal beauty drawn from their two fine Stradivarius violins and a Guarnerius cello.

The beautiful BIS recording brings the Zimmerman Trio into a domestic setting rather than a concert hall one, quite close but in a haloing open acoustic. With the 5.0 multichannel track you can distinguish the recordings of Trio nos. 1 & 3 (Stockholm) from No. 2 made in Berlin, which is slightly more reverberant and a tad warmer-toned. The engineers, however, have made the transitions as unobtrusive as possible. Impressively, tonal allure of the instruments and their respective timbres is fully apparent, and the position of each player accurately recreated - one can almost smell the rosin on the bows.

A complete RBCD 2-disc set of all of Beethovens music for string trio from the Leopold Trio is still essential, but for Op. 9, the Zimmermans are commanding, especially given their vivid recording. Top choice.

Copyright © 2012 John Miller and


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