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Piano Trios
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Josef RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Piano Trios: No.1 Op.34 (1862 revised 1867); No.2 Op.112 (1878); No.3 Op.121 (1880); No.4 Op.191 (1898)
Trio Parnassus
Recorded April 1991 and January 1992, Fürstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen
MDG 303 0419-2 [59.06 + 61.52]



Rheinberger’s trios span the bulk of his creative compositional life. They’re big, strong-boned works, crafted with great skill and imagination and not with the whiff of academicism that’s often a charge levelled against them and indeed against Rheinberger. That said the earliest, his Op.34 which dates from 1862 (revised five years later), is shaped in rather too formally four-square a fashion, each movement lasting a symmetrical - give or take - nine minutes. The slow movement as so often with him is wistful rather than mordant or truly expressive; there’s plenty of room here for the glint and colour of the piano and for the Mendelssohnian influence to percolate, notwithstanding the little episode of dancery that forms its central panel. The Scherzo is fanciful, led by the piano, with a passage of drone imitation. The finale is a Hungarian frolic, which the Trio Parnassus relish – some pounding piano and rhythmic spice enliven it. The more compact 1878 trio, dedicated to Charles Hallé, is a more formally complete work that ironically less characterful than the earlier work. The to and fro of lyricism and stuttering that Rheinberger asks of his pianist in the opening movement is amusing and warm and though the little Minuet (and at only three minutes this is Lilliputian by his standards) is attractive and concise the trio as a whole doesn’t readily imprint itself on the mind.

The Third comes from a couple of years later and is a strongly Brahmsian affair exuding warmth and in the Romanza indulging in some quixotic and welcome rhythms and earthy vitality. Rheinberger was at his best when he discarded the antique gauze, the Mendelssohnian sliver and even, at times, the granitic Brahmsian rhetoric and just let himself go. Towards the end of his compositional life – and the last trio is a late one, from 1898 – he managed to inject more quickly humorous writing. There’s a deft throw away end to the Minuet (and Rheinberger loved his Minuets) as well as burgeoning romanticism in the slow movement which is generous without being fulsome. His heart was seldom on his sleeve, more in his pocket – but that’s no bad thing and his craftsmanship and ear for colour and balance are always there to savour. 

The performances are very acceptable indeed, the Trio Parnassus proving worthy ambassadors. There were times when I wanted them to etch things rather sharper and to cut rhythmic corners with greater incision, especially in the First trio and in the long opening movement of the last but there are benefits in their overview as well. 

Jonathan Woolf  


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