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Friedrich GERNSHEIM (1839-1916)
Piano Trio No.1 in F major Op.28 (c.1872) [35:15]
Piano Trio No.2 in B major Op.37 (1879) [28:58]
Arensky Trio
rec. Saarländischer Rundfunk Musikstudio 1, October 2006 (No.1) and June 2006 (No.2)
ANTES EDITION BM-CD 31.9229 [64:15]
Experience Classicsonline

Friedrich Gernsheim has achieved increasing visibility and thus audibility of late. Hyperion devoted a disc to a quartet of German composers’ cello works, spearheaded by Schumann but also including Dietrich, Volkman and Gernsheim [CDA 67583]. His Second Quartet has been recorded by the Mandelring Quartet on Audite 97.503. But the biggest venture devoted to him currently is the cycle of symphonies with the Rhineland Philharmonic and Siegfried Kohler on Arte Nova 74321636352 – performances I’ve yet to hear. And I’d certainly like to hear the Violin Concerto – which Cameo Classics has announced is on its recording schedule.

Gernsheim certainly had all the training necessary. Born in Worms he studied with the virtuoso Ernst Pauer and then with a stellar trio in Leipzig  – Moscheles for piano, Hauptmann for theory and Ferdinand David for violin. This was followed by six years in Paris and then he took up a pedagogic appointment – a piano teacher – at Cologne Conservatory. Moves to Rotterdam and Berlin followed
He’s had the misfortune to fall somewhere been Bruch and Brahms stylistically and the corresponding neglect of his music has been disappointing, not least because he was admired by Brahms, if not necessarily by Bruch who accused him of flirting ‘too obviously…with the newest radicals.’ Not very radical though, as one sees things now.
The two trios are strong and impressive works. The first was written around 1872 and its rather halting introduction leads one to expect a dose of terse writing but in fact we soon encounter flowing Brahmsian lyricism with hints of Schumann’s chamber writing as well. There’s a yielding, lied-like conviction to his melodies that are at once approachable and warming, genial as well. The notes call the Scherzo ‘fiery’ but it occupies the mid ground between geniality and a more remote Trio, which offers a powerful contrast, sternly accented. Invariably perhaps the Largo is melancholic with a rich pizzicato-laced central panel and pliant piano chording. The finale is confident, sturdy and heroic but with lovely lyrical sediment embedded into the syntax.
The Second Trio followed in 1879. It’s a rather bolder work but shares fluidity of utterance with the earlier F major. Turbulence and changeability are mapping points in the opening. The Scherzo is energetic but with Gernsheim’s trademark poetic limpidity on display as well. This time the slow movement is solemn with a fully heightened expressive range and a welcomingly pealing piano. His writing is less complex than Brahms’s but he is certainly in the older man’s orbit in these two works. His finale is a bold, confident one if ultimately lacks real distinction.
These engaging performances reach strongly to the core of Gernsheim’s imaginative trio writing and they’re well recorded as well.
Jonathan Woolf


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