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Piano Trios
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 99, D.898 (1827) [38:25]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63 (1847) [29:35]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 80 (1847) [24.17]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8 (1854 version) [42.31]
CD 3
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839) [25.21]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Tristia, La Vallée d'Obermann, S. 378c (LW D18) arrangement by E. Lassen for piano trio of sixth in the solo piano collection Années de pèlerinage, Premier année: Suisse (1848-1854) [16:41]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Trio No. 3 in G major, Op. 110 (1851) [24.08]
CD 4
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 17 (1846) [26.19]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke for piano, violin and cello, Op.88 (1842) [16.47]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Trio No. 2 in C major, Op. 87 (1880-82) [26.17]
Hyperion-Trio: (Hagen Schwarzrock (piano); Oliver Kipp (violin); Katharina Troe (cello))
rec. October 2004, February 2005, Bad Pyrmont, Weserbergland, Germany. DDD.
THOROFON CLASSICS CTH 2533/6 [4 CDs: 68:08 + 66:55 + 66:28 + 69:40]

I class myself as fortunate to have received numerous sets of chamber music for review this year. It was especially pleasing that several of these have been of piano trios which are a special interest of mine. Consequently, I was delighted to acquire the present collection.
Schumann’s three piano trios and the Fantasiestucke, Op.88 were strongly influenced by the chamber works of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert; great masters that he venerated. He composed his Piano Trio No. 1 in 1847 and presented his wife Clara with the score as a gift for her twenty-eight birthday. The score is the longest, broadest and most introspective and is acknowledged by many writers as the greatest of his three piano trios. It was characteristic of Schumann to follow one successful work with another in the same genre and before he had finished Op. 63 he began sketching his Op. 80. Clara Schumann wrote of the D minor score, “It is one of Robert’s pieces which have warmed the depths of my soul and enraptured me from beginning to end. I love it passionately and keep wanting to play it.” Schumann waited four more years before quickly writing his Op. 110. The warm and exuberant G major score made a considerable impression on Clara who stated, “It is unique, full of passion, through and through…” Composed in 1842 the Fantasiestücke for piano, violin and cello, Op.88 was Schumann’s earliest work for the piano trio. It is an appealing and rewarding score, light and melodic in texture. Originally conceived as a piano trio Schumann was dissatisfied with his attempts and revised the score in 1849 as the Fantasiestücke.
In the Piano Trio No. 1 the Hyperion play the opening movement with considerable skill and refinement, however, I favoured a lighter and more vivacious reading of the scherzo. They interpret the slow movement with a pleasing sensitivity and the final movement would have been improved by a less weighty approach and a swifter tempo.
The Hyperion perform Piano Trio No. 2 with a strong sense of affection in an interpretation that requires more spontaneity. I felt the opening movement would have been enhanced by a bolder, more dramatic approach. The playing in the slow movement is thoughtful and relaxed with gently engaging and unassertive playing in the intermezzo-like third movement. With the finale the Hyperions seem to have lacked the confidence to provide the required additional thrust and vibrancy.
It is a similar story with the Piano Trio No. 3 where the opening movement is insufficiently moody or brooding. The slow movement is given a satisfyingly contemplative reading, however, the scherzo that Clara stated, “carries you away into the wildest depths” needed additional vitality and character. In the closing movement marked Kräftig, mit Humor (Powerfully, Humorously) the Hyperions permit the music to meander without sufficient purpose or direction.
The Hyperion provide a fine performance of the attractive Fantasiestücke. I liked their adroit playing in the romanze and the highly characterful reading of the humoreske is impressive. The duett has a sombre tenderness and in the finale the playing is straightforward and sturdy.
A confident recommendation for the finest versions of Schumann three piano trios, Opp. 63; 80 and 110 are the highly accomplished, evergreen 1971 Swiss recordings from the eminent Beaux Arts Trio on Philips Duo 456 323-2. I also have affection for the impressive award-winning accounts from the Florestan Trio on Hyperion CDA67063 (Opp. 63, 80 from 1998 in Bristol) and CDA67175 (Op. 110, Fantasiestücke from 1999 in London). With regard to the Fantasiestücke, Op.88 I cannot look further than the exhilarating account from the ‘star trio’ of pianist Martha Argerich, violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Mischa Maisky, recorded in 2002 in Berlin, on Deutsche Grammophon 463 700-2.
Schubert completed two piano trios both of which are masterpieces of the genre and also two impressive single movement pieces. The score here is the Piano Trio No. 1 D898 composed by Schubert in 1827 and described by Robert Schumann as, “passive, feminine, lyrical.”
In Schubert’s score the Hyperion are controlled and expressive in the opening allegro, they offer soft and sensitive playing, shying away from sentimentality in the andante. The German ensemble offer high spirits in the scherzo and provide appropriate soft colours in an alert reading of the finale.
For their accomplished musicality my reference version of Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1 was recorded in the 1960s by the celebrated Beaux Arts Trio on Philips Duo 438 700-2. Also worthy of attention is my treasured historic recording from the ‘star trio’ of pianist Alfred Cortot, violinist Jacques Thibaud and cellist Pablo Casals on EMI Classics 5 67001 2. Any slight reservation with the digitally remastered 1926 mono sound from the Kingsway Hall in London is outweighed by the exceptional quality of the performance from the eminent players.

Brahms composed three piano trios: the first two Op. 8 and Op. 87 are included on this Thorofon issue. The early Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 8 was written in 1854 at a time when Brahms had only composed piano sonatas. David Ewen describes the B major score as, “full of youthful exuberance, of a heady spirit lending itself to discursiveness and emotional overindulgence.” Thirty-six years later in 1889 a critical Brahms undertook a wholesale reworking of the score and presented a revised version. The version of the B major trio performed here is the original 1854 score. Brahms commenced his Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 87 in 1880 adding three more movements in 1882. Author François-René Tranchefort described the C major trio as having, “…great thematic richness, which allies an absolute mastery of form to freedom of inspiration.”
In the opening movement of the Piano Trio No. 1 the Hyperion convey a dark and unsettling nature that almost borders on the sinister. The playing is first class although some listeners may find their tempi a touch too measured. They emphasise the folk influences of the scherzo and their ability effortlessly to vary pace is impressive. There is an incandescence and a reassuring warmth to their playing in the adagio non troppo movement. The contrasting moods of the closing movement are vividly interpreted by the Hyperions who expertly bring the work to a proud and joyous conclusion.
It is hard to resist the engaging musicality of the Hyperion in the Brahms Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 87. The lyrical and richly textured opening allegro is shaped with confidence and precision. Their reading of the andante con moto communicates an intense almost stifling atmosphere and in the scherzo they are expressive and alert within the emotional constraints of this shadowy movement. I enjoyed their vibrant and invigorating playing that conveys a carefree and breezy mood to the finale.
For their penetrating insights and authoritative playing my preferred accounts of these two Brahms trios, using the 1889 revision of the Op. 8 score, are the celebrated recordings from the 1960s and 1970s from the distinguished Beaux Arts Trio on Philips Duo 438 365-2. I also thoroughly enjoy the sensitive and affectionate 2003 Chambéry accounts, of the 1889 revision, from the young trio of Gautier Capuçon; Nicholas Angelich and Renaud Capuçon on Virgin Classics 7243 5 45653 2 8.
Up to the time of her marriage to Robert Schumann in 1840 Clara Schumann had composed piano works mainly for her own use as a celebrated piano virtuoso. Undoubtedly influenced and encouraged by her husband, Clara began composing in other genres, turning her attention to chamber music with the G minor Piano Trio in 1846. According to Joachim Draheim “The Piano Trio in G minor is justly regarded to be Clara Schumann’s most important composition…
In the Piano Trio in G minor the Hyperion convey a quiet confidence to the extended, sadness tinged, opening allegro moderato. The scherzo is joyously performed yet maintains a degree of restraint so expertly communicated. The andante is a tender ‘song without words’ here ravishingly performed. I loved the coherence and security of the expressive playing in the final movement allegretto that seems to evoke a vision of a swift-flowing stream.
I do not currently have a version of Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio in my collection. I guess the account most likely to be encountered is performed by pianist Francesco Nicolosi, violinist Rodolfo Bonucci and cellist Andrea Noferini on Naxos 8.557552. Produced in 2004 in Naples the Naxos account was well received by two fellow MusicWeb-International reviewers.
In 1832 Mendelssohn wrote to his sister Fanny, “I should like to compose a couple of good trios.” Not long after his marriage to Cécile Jeanrenaud, Mendelssohn did finally compose his two Piano Trios, the first in 1839 and the second six years later. The Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 49 was an immediate success and has proved to be one of his most perennially popular scores. Mendelssohn’s friend Ferdinand Hiller stated, “I was tremendously impressed with the fire and spirit, the flow and, in short, the mastery to be heard in every bar.”
In the opening movement of the Piano Trio No. 1 the Hyperion play with enthusiasm and commendable control. They cleverly avoid the temptation to over-pace even in the passionate and agitated conclusion. The players blend beautifully in the andante movement which is like a ‘song without words’. They dart and dash, leap and tumble through the high-spirited scherzo, reminiscent of the scherzo from Mendelssohn’s famous Octet, Op.20. The trio perform the rondo, finale with vitality blended with style and precision. The Hyperions provide an outstanding unanimity of ensemble throughout this performance: one of the finest versions of the D minor score.
There are several alternative recordings of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 that are worthy of consideration in a fiercely competitive market. My first choice is the assured and inspirational interpretation from pianist Jonathan Gilad, violinist Julia Fischer and cellist Daniel Müller-Schott, recently recorded in Cologne in 2006, for PentaTone Classics SACD PTC 5186 085. Of a similar standard is a fine reading of controlled energy with judicious selection of dynamic contrasts from the Gould Piano Trio, recorded in Potton Hall, Suffolk in 2000 on Naxos 8.555063. I also rate the award-winning reading from the Florestan Trio that was recorded in the Henry Wood Hall, London in 2003 on Hyperion CDA67485.
Liszt is not a composer known for his chamber music, leaving only a handful of scores in the genre. The Tristia, La Vallée d'Obermann by Liszt has a convoluted history. Evidently the score is an arrangement for piano trio by Edward Lassen of the sixth of the piano collection the Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage), Première Année (First Year): Suisse (Switzerland) that Liszt composed between 1848-1854. The piano piece La Vallée d'Obermann seems to be a revision taken from his earlier set of piano pieces Album d'un voyageur, composed 1835–1836. Liszt apparently revised Lassen’s arrangement more than once, adding some more of his own material. Cast in two substantial sections the Tristia, La Vallée d'Obermann is a splendid and gratifying score that contains a smouldering intensity and deserves to be heard more frequently.
In the first section of the Tristia, La Vallée d'Obermann the excellent Hyperion-Trio develops a powerful atmosphere of deep despair. They supply brisk tempi in the second section of the score. Here the clouds of sadness have lifted to provide glimpses of welcome optimism amid an underlying mood of agitation and uncertainty. At point 6.43 (track 6) I liked the way the glorious interplay begins between all three instruments. It suddenly raises the spirits as if the sun has emerged from behind the clouds.
The only alternative version of Liszt’s Tristia, La Vallée d'Obermann that I am aware of, but not personally familiar with, is from the Takács Piano Trio, recorded in Budapest 1998, on Hungaroton HCD 31815.
Recorded at Bad Pyrmont in Germany the engineers have provided a clear and well balanced sound quality. Adding to the appeal of this Thorofon issue the booklet notes by Joachim Draheim, translated by J & M Berridge, are both helpful and interesting.
This is an attractively presented box set from the Thorofon label of ten wonderful Romantic piano trios well performed and recorded.
Michael Cookson


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