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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trios: No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839) [26'51]; No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 (1845) [26'54].
The Florestan Trio (Anthony Marwood, violin; Richard Lester, cello; Susan Tomes, piano).
Rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 16-18 December 2003. DDD
HYPERION CDA67485 [53'45]
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These magnificent performances have taken nearly two years to appear. Good that they have finally seen the light of day, for this is a disc to treasure. The reputation of the Florestan Trio is already high – and this provides firm confirmation of the ensemble's stature.

The two trios are separated by six years. The C minor is perhaps more tempestuous than the D minor, and as such they make admirable bedfellows. Trust me, such is the generosity of invention, you will not quarrel at the low playing time of the disc. Coupled with Mendelssohn's gifts are those of the Florestan Trio, which plays with complete unanimity of interpretative purpose. This is true chamber music playing that at times verges on telepathy. The recording is superb – perspectives are natural and clarity is all.

Susan Tomes proves herself a virtuoso. Not a virtuoso of the barn-storming type, more a consummate musician who happens to be able to play the huge number of notes, often delightfully, in small time-slices.

The D minor Trio's first movement (Molto allegro agitato) has a real sense of flow, as has Mendelssohn's invention. This is coupled with an urgency and concentration thought that suffuses the reading. The Song Without Words slow movement, in contrast, projects a veiled, crepuscular mood here perfectly caught; the Scherzo is as elfin as they come. Mendelssohn takes this lightness forward into the finale and works with it, almost taking it for a walk through a variety of mood-transformations, including the lyrical. The Florestan Trio is alive to every subtle harmonic shift, every nuance. Superb; as it is also in the C minor Trio. Although not as popular as the D minor, its very darkness is what gives it its appeal to this reviewer. Certainly the Trio injects fire and grit into the climaxes of the long and exploratory first movement (a ten-minute 'Allegro energico e fuoco') before revelling in the harmonic warmth of the Andante espressivo. The urgent dynamism of the Scherzo - which buzzes with energy - leads to a powerful finale, a fascinating movement with chorale references and yet a sense of Mendelssohn testing the boundaries of just how much energy chamber music can take. It is one of those movements - as presented here - that seems almost to call for greater heft – and yet, one knows that any change would be to ruinous.

In a field where there is much competition (Trio Parnassus on Dabringhaus, or the Beaux Arts disc of the First coupled with Dvořák's Dumky on Warner Classics 2564 61492-2), the Florestan has to be given a first recommendation. Booklet notes (Robert Philip) are as always with this company extended, and a model of clarity. Very strongly recommended indeed.

Colin Clarke



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