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.
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,
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
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
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,
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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
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
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
Donate and get a free CD
a new advertiser
Follow us on Twitter
| Editorial Board
Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief