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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839) [28:20]
Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 (1845) [30:12]
Julia Fischer (violin); Jonathan Gilad (piano); Daniel Müller-Schott (cello)
rec. 14-16 February 2006, Deutschlandfunk Sendesaal, Cologne, Germany
DDD, Direct Stream Digital, Super Audio CD, Hybrid Multichannel.


Since the foundation of PentaTone Classics in 2001, their enterprising programming; appealing contemporary presentations; consistently high quality performances and state of the art recordings have been nothing short of astonishing. I look forward enthusiastically to each of their stylish new releases and this hybrid Super Audio CD of Mendelssohnís two Piano Trios was no exception. After a check of the accompanying marketing information it seems that this disc has already been selected as a Gramophone ĎEditorís Choiceí and the recipient of a Diapason d'Or award.

PentaToneís choice of performers to play on this release is another delight to savour. No starchy, wobbly, out of tune players just going through the motions here. The trio comprises young, highly enthusiastic and greatly talented players. None of them is a full time chamber musician as they each apportion their careers as concert soloists. Julia Fischer and Daniel Müller-Schott have been especially successful at creating high profile reputations for themselves on the concert platform and in the recording studio. On the evidence of these performances the trio can be ranked alongside the finest young chamber music performers on the international stage, most notably: the Belcea Quartet; the Henschel Quartet; the Gould Piano Trio; the Pacifica Quartet; the Skampa Quartet and the trio of Renaud Capuçon, Gautier Capuçon and Frank Braley.

Mendelssohn found it difficult to reconcile the constraints of the Classical tradition of the 18th century with his own genial Romantic sensitivity. This conflict in his artistic temperament didnít prevent him from writing two of the finest trios. These scores can stand comparison with Beethovenís finest Piano Trios in D major ĎThe Ghostí and B flat major ĎArchdukeí that he wrote between 1808-11; Schubertís B flat and E flat Piano Trios from 1828; Schumannís three Piano Trios composed 1847-51 and Brahmsís Piano Trios from 1854-86.

In 1832, when he was 23, Mendelssohn wrote to his sister Fanny stating that, "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 in 1845.

The Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 was composed across the cities of Leipzig and in Frankfurt. The D minor score was an immediate success and has proved to be one of his most perennially popular scores. Mendelssohnís 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." Cast in well balanced proportions the joyous and exuberant four movement work is exquisite and remains the most admired of Mendelssohnís two Piano Trios. It has an abundance of charm and appeal that has maintained its eminent status in the chamber music repertoire. The part for the piano is more prominent than the more discrete involvement of the violin and cello.

In the opening movement Molto allegro agitato of the D minor score the clarity and warmth offered by the players is immediately apparent. I was highly impressed with their reading of the second movement Andante. The trio are expressive, responsive and controlled in this delightful Song Without Words and I especially enjoyed the way they slowed the music down at 5:22 (track 2) to create a most sublime episode. The vibrant and darting playing from the trio in the demanding and sparkling third movement scherzo, with John Giladís fingers just dancing across the keyboard, provides a chapter to savour. In the final movement Rondo marked Allegro assai appassionato the adroit and incisive players are thrilling in Mendelssohnís highly emotional dramatics.

The Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 was composed in 1845 in Frankfurt and dedicated to the composer Louis Spohr. At this time in Mendelssohnís life his already delicate health was deteriorating and he was experiencing an overwhelming strain of dividing his time between his responsibilities in Berlin, Leipzig and London. In addition he was still grieving over the death of his father and his motherís fragile health was cause for concern. Mendelssohn was bedridden when he commenced the C minor score and it is no surprise to discover that the work, over extended stretches, sounds like a musical account of those extremely difficult days. The author of the PentaTone booklet notes Hans-Dieter Grünefeld (translated by Fiona J. Stroker-Gale) writes that "Scepticism is the mood of the Piano Trio in C minor." In many ways the C minor score is superior to its predecessor although the delights do not reveal themselves as easily.

The trio perform the first movement of the C minor work with veritable panache and vitality. The darker tones behind the calm exterior of the Andante espressivo movement are adeptly revealed by the trio and their progress towards the gently lilting finish is an exquisite achievement. The trioís youthful exuberance in the energetic and intricate third movement Scherzo is always under complete control. The Finale, allegro appassionato is conveyed with a special blend of joy and affection by the players. The agitated vigour that culminates the score is communicated with an exultant air.

The competition in the Mendelssohn Piano Trios is fierce. One of the finest alternative recordings, for the controlled energy and judicious selection of dynamic contrasts, is that from the Gould Piano Trio, recorded in Potton Hall, Suffolk in 2000 on Naxos 8.555063. The outstanding Gould Trio is an improving ensemble that I have seen several times and since this Naxos recording they have now engaged the services of cellist Alice Neary. In recital the Goulds provide a consistently high level of performance. A month ago I attended one of their recitals at Kendal, Cumbria and once again their standard of performance was exceptional. In addition, I highly rate the award winning readings from the Florestan Trio on Hyperion CDA67485. Recorded in the Henry Wood Hall, London in 2003, the Guardian reviewer was accurate with his description, "The Florestans keep textures light and transparent. Both performances are models of Mendelssohn interpretation."

Superb readings of these often underrated Mendelssohn scores. Their security of ensemble is breathtaking and one can detect a compelling sense of enjoyment from the players. These are assured and enchanting interpretations that provide a wide spectrum of brilliant colours. I believe that these performances surpass the best of the available versions. I played this on my standard units and found the closely recorded sound quality to be crystal clear, warm and well balanced.

PentaTone have provided a smart contemporary presentation, interesting and detailed annotation, excellent sonics together with superb performances. What more could one ask. This is certainly a disc to dash out and purchase.

Michael Cookson


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