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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49 (1839)
Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 66 (1845)
Trio Parnassus: Wolfgang Schröder (violin), Michael Gross (cello), Chia Chou (piano)
Rec. Fürstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen, 22-24 September 2003. DDD
MDG GOLD 303 1241-2 [56’45]

It could be argued that in the medium of chamber music, the combination of piano, violin and cello has been second only to the string quartet in inspiring great composers to give of their best. Think of the wonderful piano trios from Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Dvořák, Smetana, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Ravel - the list is long. Certainly Mendelssohn understood the importance of the piano trio to the great classical masters, and his own two pay tribute to that, as well as being inspired creations in their own right.

The catalogue is not exactly bulging with one-disc versions of the two trios, so this disc from Trio Parnassus, part of their ongoing trawl through the great trio repertoire (as well as some less well known examples) is to be welcomed. Both these pieces are relatively mature, and are replete with Mendelssohnian thumbprints, from propulsive, bright allegros to cheeky, impish scherzos and hauntingly lyrical andantes. The piano does tend to dominate, particularly in the first work (Op. 49), though this is to be expected from a composer who was such a piano virtuoso. The form is better balanced in the C minor, a superb piece that shows his developing maturity.

That this trio has performed together over time is evident at every turn. The glorious melody that unfolds in the first movement of the D minor shows an excellent tonal blend and pointing of detail. The way the lead-in to the second subject (track 1,1’44) is gauged shows this fine, intuitive musicianship. Both scherzos are feather-light in their delicacy, the D minor’s particularly showing a finely-tuned grace (plus a link with the famous Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture) that is a delight. The two andantes show us the composer’s enviable melodic gift at its best, something not lost on these players. Both finales are strong on forward momentum and intensity (both indeed marked allegro appassionato) and the excitement whipped up here is palpable.

A definite hit then. My only real concern is with the recording. Despite MDG’s claims about the ‘greatest possible naturalness and vividness’, I found the piano sound just a shade too recessed in relation to the other instruments. It may be to do with microphone placement, but the violin and cello seemed to have a clearer, more pleasingly forward focus that dominated the piano somewhat. I also suspect that the grand needed the attention of a tuner part way through the proceedings, especially in the upper register. But none of this spoils the enjoyment of lovely music in lovely performances.

Tony Haywood

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