What a beautiful release this is. Mozart’s Divertimento for string trio may be his longest chamber work but it never seems too long – which may be the cue for me to get my only complaint out of the way early on. The Ssens Trio members give us the exposition repeat in the opening Allegro, but not the second repeat, thereby depriving us of at least three minutes of music. I cannot understand the attitude, prevalent among even such superb musicians as these three, that repeat signs can simply be ignored: it is analogous to building a house but putting in only three of the four gables drawn on the architect’s plan.
The Ssens Trio came together in 2014. Sølve Sigerland and Ellen Margrete Flesjø are members of the Grieg Trio and Henninge Landaas used to be a member of the Vertavo Quartet: she plays in the Oslo Philharmonic. The trio’s first CD, much praised though not heard by me, comprised Beethoven’s String Trio, Opus 3, and Serenade, Opus 8; so having recorded the work based on Mozart’s K563, they have now tackled the fountainhead. All three have beautiful tones and they play with fine intonation, relaxed but very musical rhythm and marvellous ensemble. Obviously the violinist and cellist are used to making music together, but they seem to get on really well with the violist.
You notice two things straight away: the recording is first-rate, allowing us to hear the cello all the time, and the players have a natural feeling for tempo. They take the Allegro at an ideal conversational tempo – too fast, and the cellist will be scrambling at certain points, too slow, and the music will get bogged down. Here it all goes swimmingly. The Adagio is gravely beautiful at the chosen tempo, which is about average when you look round at other performances. The first Minuet is quite relaxed in tempo but seems right when heard in context: it has quite enough vigour and its Trio is nicely integrated. The Andante with its four variations is very well characterised: the players slow down quite a lot for the third, in B-flat minor, cutting down on their vibrato, but contrive to make the return to a faster speed for the fourth variation sound natural. Once again the second Minuet, with its two Trios, is quite relaxed but works very well. The Finale, a Rondo in 6/8, goes with an easy swing: they manage the little episode where the music modulates to let the viola take over the main theme with a gracious extra soupçon of gravity.
They fill up the disc with the three Fugues which Mozart arranged from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, along with the introductory Adagios which may or may not be by Mozart. The six little movements make pleasant listening but should not affect your decision whether or not to buy this issue. The Divertimento is the thing.
I made a few comparisons with another outstanding Nordic version of the Divertimento, by the Zilliacus-Persson-Raitinen Trio (Caprice CAP 21795). The two Swedes and their Finnish cellist make the same decisions as the Ssens Trio over the repeats in the opening movement and play four of the movements at similar tempos, but are brisker in the Minuets. Their disc-filler is the Movement for String Trio in G, K562e, completed by Franz Beyer. I would say that their performance of K563 is a little more joyous, while that by the Ssens threesome is a tad more reflective.
If I want to hear both repeats in the first Allegro (and in an ideal world I do!), my current favourite is the recording by Trio Zimmermann (BIS-SACD-1817). They are brisker than the Norwegians in the Minuets, like the Swedish-Finnish group, and complete their programme with Schubert’s one-movement Trio in B-flat, D471.