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Buywell Just Classical  

A Piano Trio Anthology
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No. 2 in C major, Op. 87 (1880-1882) [29:19]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 ‘In memory of a Great Artist’ (1881-82) [44:56]
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Piano Trio No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 12 (c. 1803) [21:11]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Piano Trio in G major (1879-80) [22:34]
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32 (1894) [31:31]
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Piano Trio No. 4 in G major, Op. 65 (c. 1814-15)
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15 (1855) [29:18]
Michael BRIMER (b. 1933)
Piano Trio No. 1 (2001) [23:35]
Ross EDWARDS (b. 1943)
Piano Trio (1998) [19:01]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Piano Trio (1937) [16:10]
The Australian Trio: Donald Hazelwood (violin); Catherine Hewgill (cello) (CD2, 3); Susan Blake (cello) (CD1, 4); Michael Brimer (piano)
rec. April 1998 (CD2); September 1999 (CD3); June 2001 (CD1) and October 2001/February 2004 (CD4), Eugene Goossens Hall, Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ultimo Centre, Sydney, Australia. DDD 
[4 CDs: 74:17 + 75:22 + 47:41 + 58:47] 



This absorbing compilation features a broad cross-section of the repertoire for piano trio, ranging from late-Romantic to contemporary. We are told that CDs 2 and 3 contain material that has been released previously. I note the Australian Trio have made personnel changes as on CDs 1 and 4, cellist Susan Blake has taken over from Catherine Hugill. Since the last of these recordings was made I understand that Fenella Gill has joined the ensemble as their cellist.

We are told that in 1996 the Australian Trio was formed, “out of the enjoyment each of these artists derives from their musical collaboration.” The leader Donald Hazelwood and pianist Michael Brimer are highly experienced performers and soloists in their own right, and provide an impressive depth of interpretative power. The Australian Trio actively look for material that lies outside the standard repertoire and enjoy performing and recording works by current Australian composers. The pianist Michael Brimer a Professor Emeritus at the University of Melbourne also has an active career as an organist and composer and his Piano Trio No. 1 is performed on this issue.

The first work on this ABC Classics release is the Brahms Piano Trio No. 2. The Australian Trio perform the rich and intense writing with impressive vigour and commitment, although I would have preferred a greater degree of emotion in the andante. A fine performance but it cannot achieve the penetrating insights and authoritative playing of the distinguished account from the Beaux Arts Trio on Philips Duo 438 365-2. Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio titled ‘In memory of a Great Artist’ was written in remembrance of his friend the composer Nikolai Rubinstein and at nearly forty-five minutes in length is a monumental work of the repertoire. The Australian Trio provide a compelling performance fully attuned to the score’s passionate lyricism. My favoured version for its ardent fervour and immediacy is the recording from the Borodin Trio on Chandos CHAN 8348.

The second CD opens with Hummel’s Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 12. I love the way the players take a secure grip with an expressive lyricism in the expansive outer movements. The Trio from the teenage Debussy is full of warm and sensitive feeling that the Australian players convey with delightful character and elegance. To reach the heights of the best versions I would have preferred a touch more subtlety from Brimer and additional keyboard colour. For their sensitivity and alertness my preferred account of the Debussy Trio is performed by the Florestan trio on Hyperion CDA 67114. In Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 the players provide positive and characterful playing in this robust and melodically resourceful score. The playing is so engaging that one wishes that they had also recorded Arensky’s second Piano Trio in F Minor, Op. 73 of 1905. This interpretation is right up there with the spirited and exciting version from the Borodin Trio on Chandos CHAN 8477.  

On the third CD the opening work is Hummel’s appealing Piano Trio No. 4. It is easy to feel the undoubted influence of Mozart who had been an influential teacher of Hummel. The Australian Trio play with exuberance and considerable charm, although I wanted a touch more vivacity in the opening allegro.

As much as I admire these performances of the Hummel trios there is much more to savour in the affectionate and thoughtfully characterised readings on period instruments from the Voces Intimae on Warner Classics 2564 62596-2. At the time of writing his Piano Trio Op. 15 Smetana was experiencing severe emotional difficulties which is impressively reflected with imagination and admirable tone colour. I remain faithful to the compellingly confident and polished account of the Smetana trio from the Trio Fontenay on Warner Apex 0927 40822-2.    

For me the final CD is the most interesting as it contains two unfamiliar contemporary scores from Ross Edwards and from Michael Brimer. There is also an early Bernstein score from when, I guess, he was still a student of Walter Piston at Harvard University and had fallen under the influence of the eminent conductor Dmitri Mitropoulos. Bernstein didn’t write many chamber scores which makes this one a rarity. 

In Brimer’s first Piano Trio in two sections the grave and rhythmic, often mantra-like outpourings of the opening movement are impressively communicated. The unsettling energy of the second movement is played with stormy abandon and brusque intensity. The allegretto that opens Ross Edwards’s three movement Piano Trio is a yearning contemplative outpouring with an underlying disturbing character. In the rather uneventful adagio and with the stop-start nature of the nervous finale the Australians remain steadfast and resilient. Bernstein’s youthful Piano Trio is uneven in quality but it announces significant potential for the improvements that were to quickly come in his career. There is unwavering and dedicated playing in the relatively cheerless opening movement and in the rather sparse and cool rhythms of the central movement. The initially monotonous finale gives way to a welcome mood of rampant high spirits and is performed here with affection, persuasion and commendable concentration. 

The recorded sound is consistently appealing and decently balanced with booklet notes by Michael Brimer that are interesting and reasonably informative. Additional works could have been included to fill up the set as the third disc at only forty-eight minutes is short measure and the fifty-eight minute fourth disc is not generous either. 

This well performed and recorded box set containing a broad cross-section of fascinating repertoire for the piano trio is certainly worth searching out and will provide considerable rewards.

Michael Cookson


Buywell Just Classical  



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